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Profession Overview

Dentists diagnose and treat problems with a patient’s teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth. They provide advice and instruction on taking care of teeth and gums and on diet choices that affect oral health.

Dentistry Overview

  • Remove decay from teeth and fill cavities.
  • Repair cracked or fractured teeth and remove teeth.
  • Straighten teeth to correct bite issues.
  • Place sealants or whitening agents on teeth.
  • Administer anesthetics to keep patients from feeling pain during procedures.
  • Write prescriptions for antibiotics or other medications.
  • Examine x rays of teeth, gums, the jaw, and nearby areas for problems.
  • Make models and measurements for dental appliances, such as dentures, to fit patients.
  • Teach patients about diet, flossing, use of fluoride, and other aspects of dental care.

Is dentistry a possible career for you?

Do you have the following qualities? If so, dentistry might be a good fit for you!

  • Communication skills: Dentists must have excellent communication skills. They must be able to communicate effectively with patients, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and receptionists.
  • Detail oriented: Dentists must be detail oriented so patients receive appropriate treatments and medications. They must also pay attention to space, shape, and color of teeth. For example, they may need to closely match a false tooth with a patient’s other teeth.
  • Dexterity: Dentists must be good at working with their hands. They work with tools in a limited area.
  • Leadership skills: Most dentists work in their own practice. This requires them to manage and lead a staff.
  • Organizational skills: Strong organizational skills, including keeping accurate records of patient care, are critical in both medical and business settings.
  • Patience: Dentists may work for long periods of time with patients who need special attention. Children and patients with a fear of dental work may require a lot of patience.
  • Physical stamina: Dentists should be comfortable performing physical tasks, such as bending over patients for long periods.
  • Problem-solving skills: Dentists need strong problem-solving skills. They must evaluate patients’ symptoms and choose the appropriate treatments.

Professional Education

Degree Offered

Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD)

Years of Study

Four years for General Dentistry; additional training/licensing for nine specialty areas

Licensure Required

All states require dentists to be licensed; requirements vary by state. Most states require a dentist to have a degree from an accredited dental school and to pass a written and practical exam. In addition, a dentist who wants to practice in one of the nine specialties must have a license in that specialty. This usually requires 2 to 4 years of additional education after dental school and, in some cases, the completion of a special state exam. A postgraduate residency term also may be required, usually lasting up to 2 years.

Choosing a Dental School

Choose a dental degree program carefully based upon factors that are important to your own learning needs. Consider program content, geographic location, faculty; facilities, experiential training opportunities, class size, student demographics, extracurricular opportunities, and cost.

For state-supported public institutions, legal residence may have a significant impact on admissions decisions. Private institutions may offer out-of-state and foreign applicants a greater number of positions as compared to state-supported, public institutions.

Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics