Dentist: Career Profile, Occupational Outlook, and Education Prerequisites

Learn about the specialized education and training that must be completed to become a dentist in the United States. Discover job duties, licensure requirements and the outlook for a career in dentistry. Schools offering Dental Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Dentist?

Dentists examine the teeth and oral tissue. These professionals need to earn a doctoral degree, along with state licensure. Dentists not only diagnose and treat health issues with teeth, but help educate patients on proper oral health, including diet, cleaning techniques and more. These professionals will address any issues with a patient's teeth by removing decay, filling cavities, repairing broken teeth or even removing teeth. They can also place sealants to protect teeth, prescribe medication if needed and examine x-rays of the mouth. Some dentists may choose to focus on a particular area and take on a specialized role, such as a pediatric dentist or orthodontist. Read on for an overview of what you need to know about entering the field of dentistry.

Education Required Doctoral degree in dentistry
Key Skills Physical stamina, patience, dexterity, attention to detail
Licensure State licensure is required
Job Growth (2014-2024) 18%*
Median Salary (2015) $158,310*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Typical Career Profile for a Dentist?

As a dentist, you'll diagnose, treat and prevent oral health problems. Some of your job duties might include filling cavities, performing gum surgery, repairing teeth, extracting teeth, making dentures, writing prescriptions and examining X-rays. You also might educate patients on healthy oral hygiene techniques and proper nutrition. If you work in private practice, you might be in charge of overseeing bookkeeping and inventory records.

What Is the Expected Occupational Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of dentists was predicted to increase 18% from 2014-2024. Increases in the general and elderly populations were expected to contribute to the demand for dentists. Expanded dental coverage in insurance plans and the increased popularity of cosmetic dental services also might contribute to demand. However, job growth could be tempered by new technologies and employment of dental hygienists and assistants, both of which allow dentists to be more productive.

What Are the Education Prerequisites?

To be admitted to dental school, you must complete certain pre-dental courses as an undergraduate. These might include inorganic and organic chemistry, biology, biochemistry, physics and English composition. You'll also be required to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). While many schools require only 2-3 years of college coursework, most who gain admission have at least a bachelor's degree, according to the BLS.

You'll begin dental school by taking basic science courses, such as anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pathology and nutrition. You'll gain clinical experience working with patients and complete clinical rotations during your final two years. You might opt to participate in research during your course of study.

Are There Licensure Requirements?

You must earn a license to practice dental medicine in the United States. While each state administers its own written and practical licensing examinations, you usually can fulfill the written exam requirement by passing the National Board Dental Examinations (NBDE).

If you would like to choose a dental specialty, such as orthodontics, oral pathology, periodontics or oral surgery, you must complete postgraduate training, which can take 2-4 years. In some cases, you might be required to pass an additional exam given by your state.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are many other related careers in the medical field for you to pursue. The following examples all require a doctoral or professional degree. One related career is that of an optometrist. These professionals diagnose and treat any issues with the eye. They can also prescribe eyeglasses or contacts. Another option is podiatry. Podiatrists specialize in care and treatment of the feet, ankles and lower legs. They diagnose problems in these areas and may even perform surgery if needed. Veterinarians are also similar, but offer medical care to animals. Veterinarians diagnose and treat pets, livestock and more.

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