There are approximately 142,000 dentists working in the United States. According to job growth statistics, the industry is expected to grow faster than average over the next decade, at about 16%, due to the fact that many dentists are reaching retirement age. In addition to a growing population, baby boomers are reaching the age where good dental care is especially important. More seniors are retaining their own teeth, so upkeep is essential. Insurance companies are beginning to design better consumer plans. Teeth-whitening has become very popular; new technology over the next decade will continue to lower the cost of these treatments, make them easier and less time-consuming, and be less uncomfortable.

Practicing dentistry requires completion of an accredited dental school and passing both practical and written exams.

  • Dentists address cleanliness, problems, and diseases of the gums, teeth, and tissue. They teach patients proper brushing and flossing techniques, suggest dietary changes, and discuss how best to address cavities, cracks in teeth, capping or replacing missing teeth. Many dentists treat gum diseases surgically, remove teeth and build dentures. They are authorized to write prescriptions. In addition to precision hand tools, dentists use drills, probes, mouth mirrors, brushes, tweezers, scalpels, and x-rays. Many dentists are moving into using lasers, digital scans, and other computer technologies.
  • The working environment is very clean and brightly lit. Dentists protect their patients and themselves from infectious disease by wearing face masks and gloves. Seventy-five percent of all dentists have a private practice, in which they must manage administrative tasks or hire an office manager. Knowing about bookkeeping, billing and insurance issues, supplies, and employing hygienists, assistants, technicians, and receptionists is also important.
  • While many dentists work on a range of issues, others focus on one or more specialty areas. Orthodontists; oral and maxillofacial surgeons; pediatric dentists; periodontists; prosthodontists; endodontists; oral pathologists; oral and maxillofacial radiologists; and dental public health are the nine types of specialists in dentistry.
  • Newly graduated dentists who are starting their own business are likely to work more than 40 hours a week to build clientele and gain experience. Some work evenings or weekends to accommodate patient schedules. Dentists with greater experience work fewer hours in general.


All dentists must be licensed. Applicants must complete a program at one of approximately 60 schools accredited by the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation. Two degrees are given – Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). Prior to being accepted into a dental program, students must spent two years or more completing pre-dental coursework. Pre-dental classes can include biology, chemistry, physics, health, numerous science classes, and mathematics. Applicants to dental schools must take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). These scores, in combination with grade point average, letters of recommendation, and interviews collectively determine who will be accepted into dental school. Most programs are four years in length. The last two years are spent with hands-on experience, working in dental clinics with patients. Licensed dentists supervise student work.

  • All states require licensure. To be licensed, dentists must have completed an accredited program and pass examinations. Candidates who pass the National Board Dental Examinations are exempted from state written exams.
  • In addition to required education, dentists must have steady hands, good manual dexterity, good visual memory, a scientific background, a strong sense of spatial and color relationships, and diagnostic talent. In addition, because 75% of dentists are in private practice, business training and good people skills are especially useful.

Some dentists and students intend to work in research or teaching, which requires several additional years of training but allows them an advanced position. Advancement also comes in the form of specializing; roughly 15% of all dentists specialize in one of nine areas. While some dentists work as an associate for a year or two following graduation, others purchase or begin their own practice. Some dentists teach or supervise students in clinics.
The median annual salary for general dentists is about $143,000. Those in private practice earn more overall but also have higher expenses. Salaried dentists typically receive health, life, and malpractice insurance, vacation, and retirement benefits.