How-to Guide for Becoming a Dentist

How-to Guide for Becoming a Dentist
Cross Country Locums
February 01, 2023 04:47 AM (GMT-04:00)
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Dentist Salary, Dental School, Dentist Jobs and More

Dentists are in demand! If you’re looking for a career with autonomy, outstanding compensation and excellent hours, dentistry is for you. Dentistry is a professionally and personally fulfilling field with rewarding opportunities and immense flexibility. After all, U.S. News & World Report ranked the dentist career as #4 in Best Health Care Jobs, #8 in Best STEM Jobs and #11 in Best Paying Jobs!

In this how-to guide on being a dentist, we’ll cover helpful topics like:

  • Demand for dentists
  • Dentist salary
  • Types of dentists
  • Dental school
  • Dentist licensing
  • Board certification
  • Dental practice settings
  • Locum tenens dentists
  • Dentist resources

Demand for Dentists

What is the current demand for dentists?

Dentists are in high demand! The American Dental Association reports that just over 200,000 dentists are practicing in the U.S., and the nation has a shortage of nearly 11,000 dentists. It’s a great time to enter the field.

Dentist Salary

What is the average dentist salary?

In the U.S., the median general dentist salary is about $189,000, and the lower and upper 25% of dentists earn from about $169,000-$215,000 ( Dentists’ salaries temporarily dipped during the pandemic since many patients stayed home, but they’re back on the rise and have increased yearly, with the exception of 2021.

Types of Dentists and Dental Specialists

Should I be a general dentist or specialist?

One of the perks of dentistry is that you have so many options. You’ll have flexibility as a generalist, or you can continue your education and become a specialist. It all depends on your areas of interest, where you want to work, what you want to earn, and how much education you want to pursue.

Types of general dentists include:

  • General dentists – These dentists provide routine exams, prevent tooth decay, treat cavities, restore teeth, screen for oral cancer, identify gum disease and more. They refer patients to specialists when needed.
  • Family dentists – Family dentists are general dentists who focus on age-related dental care. For example, they may emphasize providing care for children, teens and senior citizens.
  • Cosmetic dentists – Cosmetic dentists are general dentists concerned with improving the appearance of the mouth, gums, teeth and smile. They often use veneers, bonding, implants, whitening, inlays and tooth-colored fillings.

What are the different types of general dentists?

The National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards recognizes 12 different dental specialties:

  • Dental Anesthesiology – Dental anesthesiologists specialize in anesthesia, sedation and pain management for dental and oral surgery. They have advanced training in patient safety, pharmacology, emergency medicine and internal medicine.
  • Dental Public Health – Dental public health specialists focus on communities. They help improve access to dental care for underserved patient populations. They also may engage in research and education to prevent oral disease.
  • Endodontics – Endodontists specialize in tooth decay, injury, disease, infections and pain. They treat the tooth pulp, the interior of the tooth, which contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology – Oral and maxillofacial pathologists are concerned with the mouth, salivary glands, jaw, jaw bones, temporomandibular joints (TMJ), and facial muscles. They use microscopic and molecular procedures to diagnose disease.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology – Oral and maxillofacial radiologists also focus on the mouth, salivary glands, jaw, jaw bones, temporomandibular joints (TMJ), and facial muscles. They use advanced diagnostic imaging to diagnose disease.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery – Oral and maxillofacial surgeons diagnose, treat and perform surgeries to treat diseases and conditions of the mouth, salivary glands, jaw, jaw bones, temporomandibular joints (TMJ), and facial muscles.
  • Oral Medicine – Oral medicine specialists diagnose and treat patients with complex medical conditions of the oral and maxillofacial areas. They don’t perform advanced surgeries but take biopsies, make injections and administer medications.
  • Orofacial Pain – Orofacial pain specialists diagnose and treat pain disorders of the mouth, jaw, face, head and neck. They often treat TMJ disorders, masticatory (chewing) pain, toothaches, vascular pain or nerve pain.
  • Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics – Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedic specialists diagnose and treat problems with tooth and dental arch alignment, such as malocclusion. They use appliances, including braces, to correct issues.
  • Pediatric Dentistry – Pediatric dentists are specialists who treat infants, children and teens. They provide comprehensive and diagnostic dental care through oral health exams, repair of injured teeth, early treatment to correct bite issues and more.
  • Periodontics – Periodontists diagnose and treat diseases of the gums, tissues and bones surrounding the teeth. They perform procedures including gum grafts, bone grafts and frenectomies to help restore periodontal health.
  • Prosthodontics – Prosthodontists diagnose and treat patients with missing or deficient teeth. They use prosthetics and dental implants to help individuals regain oral comfort, function, appearance and health.

Dental School

What school is needed to become a dentist?

To be a dentist, you’ll need about 6-8 years of education and training:

  • 2-4 years of undergraduate education to earn a bachelor’s degree or equivalent
  • 4 years of dental study to earn either a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD) or a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) (These two degrees have nearly the same coursework, but they have different names).

What degree do I need to be a dental specialist?

To be a dental specialist, you’ll need much more education. For example, oral and maxillofacial surgeons have 12-14 years of training (American College of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons):

  • 2-4 years of undergraduate education to earn a bachelor’s degree or equivalent
  • 4 years of dental study to earn a DMD or DDS
  • 2 years of medical education to earn an MD
  • 4 years of residency

Dental Licensure and Board Certification

How do I become licensed as a dentist?

To obtain a license to practice as a dentist, you must:

  1. Earn your D.D.s or DMD from a program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation(CODA).
  2. Pass the Integrated National Board Dental Examination (INBDE).
  3. Pass the clinical exam required by your state board of dentistry.

Should I become a board-certified dentist?

Becoming a board-certified dentist is unnecessary, but it can open doors for your career. For example, the military, hospitals and academia offer higher pay and more prestigious positions for board-certified dentists. Board-certified dentists only make up about 1 percent of general dentists. To become certified by the American Board of General Dentistry (ABGD), dentists must:

  1. Meet the educational requirements of ABGD.
  2. Pass a comprehensive written ABGD exam.
  3. Pass an oral ABGD exam.
  4. Complete at least 125 hours of continuing education credit every 5 years.

Dental Practice Settings

Where do dentists work?

General dentists have many options when it comes to practice settings. They can work in:

  • Academia
  • Corrections
  • Group private practice
  • Health clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Indian Health Services
  • Individual private practice
  • Locum tenens and travel assignments
  • Outpatient care, nursing facilities
  • University clinics
  • Veterans Administration

Locum Tenens Dentist Jobs

What is a locum tenens dentist?

Locum tenens dentists fill in when other dentists are out on vacation or sick leave or temporarily when permanent positions become vacant. Some dentists choose to take locum tenens assignments on the side, while others make a full-time career of it.

What are the benefits of being a locum tenens dentist?

Dentists who take locum tenens assignments enjoy the flexibility, freedom, compensation and quality of life the arrangement offers! If you decide to practice as a locum tenens dentist, you can:

  • Choose from short- or long-term assignments
  • Select from full-time or part-time opportunities
  • Find assignments near home or in exciting locations across the nation
  • Learn from other practices and expand your network
  • Bring along family members or even a pet
  • Enjoy perks like paid travel, housing and more
  • Try out a practice and location before deciding to make a permanent commitment
  • Avoid practice politics and the pressures of running a full-time practice
  • Get to work with new patient populations
  • Discover new areas of interest, like family dentistry or cosmetic dentistry
  • Have a team of locum tenens experts on your side, advocating for you!

Dentist Resources

Here are helpful resources to aid your research on pursuing a career as a dentist:

Dentist Jobs

To discover where dentists are needed in beautiful locations across the nation, search our locum tenens dentist jobs now!

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