While many of the health professions featured in Health
Care Job Explosion are utilized in home health care, Personal and Home Care
Aides are specific to the field. Home health aides—who provide health-related
services, rather than mainly housekeeping and routine personal care—are
discussed in the statement on nursing,
psychiatric, and home health aides.
Dentists diagnose, prevent, and treat problems with teeth or mouth tissue.
They remove decay, fill cavities, examine x-rays, place protective plastic
sealants on children’s teeth, straighten teeth, and repair fractured teeth. They
also perform corrective surgery on gums and supporting bones to treat gum
diseases. Dentists extract teeth and make models and measurements for dentures
to replace missing teeth. They provide instruction on diet, brushing, flossing,
the use of fluorides, and other aspects of dental care. They also administer
anesthetics and write prescriptions for antibiotics and other medications.
Dentists use a variety of equipment, including x-ray machines; drills; and
instruments such as mouth mirrors, probes, forceps, brushes, and scalpels. They
wear masks, gloves, and safety glasses to protect them-selves and their patients
from infectious diseases.
Dentists in private practice oversee a variety of administrative tasks,
including bookkeeping and buying equipment and supplies. They may employ and
supervise dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental laboratory technicians,
Most dentists are general practitioners, handling a variety of dental needs.
Other dentists practice in any of nine specialty areas. Orthodontists, the
largest group of specialists, straighten teeth by applying pressure to the teeth
with braces or retainers. The next largest group, oral and maxillofacial
surgeons, operates on the mouth and jaws. The remainder may specialize as
pediatric dentists (focusing on dentistry for children); periodontists (treating
gums and bone supporting the teeth); prosthodontists (replacing missing teeth
with permanent fixtures, such as crowns and bridges, or with removable fixtures
such as dentures); endodontists (performing root canal therapy); public health
dentists (promoting good dental health and preventing dental diseases within the
community); oral pathologists (studying oral diseases); or oral and
maxillofacial radiologists (diagnosing diseases in the head and neck through the
use of imaging technologies).
Most dentists work 4 or 5 days a week. Some work evenings and weekends to
meet their patients’ needs. Most full-time dentists work between 35 and 40 hours
a week, but others work more. Initially, dentists may work more hours as they
establish their practice. Experienced dentists often work fewer hours. Many
continue in part-time practice well beyond the usual retirement age.
Most dentists are solo practitioners, meaning that they own their own businesses
and work alone or with a small staff. Some dentists have partners, and a few
work for other dentists as associate dentists.
Dentists held about 150,000 jobs in 2004. Employment was distributed among
general practitioners and specialists as follows: Dentists, general, 128,000;
Orthodontists, 10,000; Oral and maxillofacial surgeons, 6,000; Prosthodontists,
1,000; and Dentists, all other specialists, 5,000.
About one third of dentists were self-employed and not incorporated. Almost
all dentists work in private practice. According to ADA, 78 percent of dentists
in private practice are sole proprietors, and 14 percent belong to a
partnership. A few salaried dentists work in hospitals and offices of
All 50 states and the District of Columbia require dentists to be licensed.
To qualify for a license in most states, candidates must graduate from 1 of the
56 dental schools accredited by the American Dental Association’s (ADA’s)
Commission on Dental Accreditation in 2004, and then must pass written and
practical examinations. Candidates may fulfill the written part of the state
licensing requirements by passing the National Board Dental Examinations.
Individual states or regional testing agencies administer the written or
Dental schools require a minimum of 2 years of college-level pre-dental
education, regardless of the major chosen. However, most dental students have at
least a bachelor’s degree. Predental education emphasizes coursework in science,
and many applicants to dental school major in a science such as biology or
chemistry, while other applicants major in another subject and take many science
courses as well. A few applicants are accepted to dental school after 2 or 3
years of college and complete their bachelor’s degree while attending dental
All dental schools require applicants to take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT).
When selecting students, schools consider scores earned on the DAT, applicants’
grade point averages, and information gathered through recommendations and
interviews. Competition for admission to dental school is keen.
Dental school usually lasts 4 academic years. Studies begin with classroom
instruction and laboratory work in basic sciences, including anatomy,
microbiology, biochemistry, and physiology. Beginning courses in clinical
sciences, including laboratory techniques, also are provided at this time.
During the last 2 years, students treat patients, usually in dental clinics,
under the supervision of licensed dentists. Most dental schools award the degree
of Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS). The rest award an equivalent degree, Doctor
of Dental Medicine (DMD).
Some dental school graduates work for established dentists as associates for 1
to 2 years to gain experience and save money to equip an office of their own.
Most dental school graduates, however, purchase an established practice or open
a new one immediately after graduation.
In 2004, 17 states licensed or certified dentists who intended to practice in
a specialty area. Requirements include 2 to 4 years of post-graduate education
and, in some cases, the completion of a special state examination. Most state
licenses permit dentists to engage in both general and specialized practice.
Dentists who want to teach or conduct research usually spend an additional 2 to
5 years in advanced dental training, in programs operated by dental schools or
hospitals. According to the ADA, each year about 12 percent of new graduates
enroll in postgraduate training programs to prepare for a dental specialty.
Dentistry requires diagnostic ability and manual skills. Dentists should have
good visual memory, excellent judgment regarding space and shape, a high degree
of manual dexterity, and scientific ability. Good business sense,
self-discipline, and good communication skills are helpful for success in
private practice. High school and college students who want to become dentists
should take courses in biology, chemistry, physics, health, and mathematics.
Employment of dentists is projected to grow about as fast as average for all
occupations through 2014. Although employment growth will provide some job
opportunities, most jobs will result from the need to replace the large number
of dentists expected to retire. Job prospects should be good as new dentists
take over established practices or start their own.
Demand for dental care should grow substantially through 2014. As members of the
baby-boom generation advance into middle age, a large number will need
complicated dental work, such as bridges. In addition, elderly people are more
likely to retain their teeth than were their predecessors, so they will require
much more care than in the past. The younger generation will continue to need
preventive checkups despite treatments such as fluoridation of the water supply,
which decreases the incidence of tooth decay. However, employment of dentists is
not expected to grow as rapidly as the demand for dental services. As their
practices expand, dentists are likely to hire more dental hygienists and dental
assistants to handle routine services.
Dentists will increasingly provide care and instruction aimed at preventing
the loss of teeth, rather than simply providing treatments such as fillings.
Improvements in dental technology also will allow dentists to offer more
effective and less painful treatment to their patients.
Median annual earnings of salaried dentists were $129,920 in May 2004. Earnings
vary according to number of years in practice, location, hours worked, and
Self-employed dentists in private practice tend to earn more than do salaried
dentists, and a relatively large proportion of dentists is self- employed. Like
other business owners, these dentists must provide their own health insurance,
life insurance, and retirement benefits.
Additional Dentist career and job resources are presented in the paperback
Health Care Job Explosion! 4th edition by Dennis V. Damp for this
occupational group. Resources include Job Ads, Job Hotlines, Job Fairs,
Placement services, Associations, Books, Directories and Internet (Web) Sites.
Your local library may have this book in their reference section or you can
purchase a copy for $19.95 plus shipping with all major credit cards from our
toll free service at 1-800-782-7424 (Orders Only). Also available at all major
bookstores. Also explore jobs at VA hospitals and other
federal government employment options.
Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) - 211 East Chicago Ave., Ste 900, Chicago,
IL 60611; 888/243-3368. (http://www.agd.org)
Their “Smile Line” allows anyone to ask a dentist a question, either by phone,
or by web message. The members-only area offers a membership directory.
American Dental Association (ADA) - 211 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60611;
As a part of their mentoring program, the ADA has a job shadow program that lets
high school students shadow a dentist for a day to see if they are interested in
a dental career. Includes abundant information on becoming a dentist, including
listing of contacts for the mentoring program.
The Dental Site - (http://www.dentalsite.com)
This web site provides lots of directories and links. The “For Dentists” area
lists links to dental web sites by area of specialty.
National Dental Association (NDA) - 3517 16th Street, N.W. Washington, DC
20010; 202/588-1697. Represents minority oral health professionals. Provides
scholarship information and mentoring. The Internet web site has extensive links
to dental schools and local chapters. (http://www.ndaonline.org,
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