Dentist Salary

Dentists diagnose and treat problems associated with the teeth and tissues in the mouth. They also give advice and care to help prevent future problems such as cavities and gum disease. Dentists are well-compensated for their work with many earning over $150,000 annually.

Dentists must complete a rigorous educational program and pass practical and written licensing exams in order to practice. At the top of their field, dentists can earn up to $185,000 per year.

Salary Overview

There are a number of factors that can determine a dentist’s salary. However, the average salary earned by general dentists is about $142,000 per year. Earnings depend upon the number of years in practice, hours worked, and specialty.*

Dentists who specialize are more likely to see higher earnings than those who do not. For example, oral and maxillofacial surgeons earn an average of 178,000 annually. Orthodontists make $185,000 and prosthodontists earn $169,000.*

*According to the BLS,

Generally speaking, dentists who are in private practice have much higher earnings than salaried dentists. However, dentists in private practice must provide insurance and retirement benefits to their employees at their own cost.

Salaried dentists receive benefits directly from their employer. Besides a steady paycheck, the most common salaried benefits are health and malpractice insurance.

Job Description and Outlook

Dentists are responsible for diagnosing and treating problems involving the teeth as well as gum tissues inside the mouth. They also give advice on brushing, flossing, and other aspects of dental care. Another part of their job involves filling cavities, examining X-rays, repairing teeth, providing protective sealants, and performing corrective surgery.

Dentists may also be responsible for making dentures to replace missing teeth, treating gum disease, administering anesthetics, and writing prescriptions for medications.

Dentists typically work in an office environment and wear safety glasses, face masks, and gloves for protection. They must become familiar with and operate a variety of equipment such as drills, X-ray machines, and advanced imaging technologies. Dentists also work with forceps, mouth mirrors, scalpels, probes, and brushes.

As the overall population of the United States increases, the demand for dental care will continue to grow. In addition, the elderly will continue to need more complicated dental work over time.

A large number of dentists are expected to retire in the next few years and will need to be replaced. Employment of dentists is projected to grow by 16 percent through 2018. This growth rate is faster than average for all occupations with 15,000 new jobs expected by 2016.*

*According to the BLS,

Training and Education Requirements

Dentists are required to be licensed and must graduate from an accredited school certified by the American Dental Association. They must pass written exams as well as obtain practical experience by working with patients under the supervision of other dentists.

Most dentists are required to complete eight years of education after graduating high school. They must take several science based classes in their first four years of college to earn their undergraduate degree. Many are required to take classes in biology, math, and chemistry before applying to dental school.

Admission to dental school is a highly competitive process. Dental schools look at test scores earned on the Dental Admissions Test, applicants’ interviews, recommendations, and GPA. Once admitted to dental school, students must earn certification in with courses in anatomy, microbiology, physiology, and the clinical sciences. Students must also gain experience through clinical practice under the supervision of other dentists.

After completion of dental school, graduates are awarded the degree of Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD), or a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS). This degree allows them to practice as professional dentists upon completion of the required exams. Many dentists choose to work with established dentists upon graduation to gain more experience before opening up their own practice.

The characteristics needed to become a dentist include manual dexterity, scientific ability, good spatial judgment, visual memory, and strong diagnostic skills. After starting a dental practice, dentists need excellent verbal and written communication skills, money management skills, and self-discipline. They may employ and supervise dental hygienists, dental assistants, laboratory technicians, and receptionists.


A license is required to practice as a dentist in all states. Along with earning a degree, licensure involves passing a series of written and practical exams. The National Board of Dental Examinations sets the standards for the written part of the exam. Exams are administered by testing agencies.

Besides being general practitioners, candidates may be licensed in other specialties and practice as orthodontists, oral surgeons, pediatrics, periodontists, endodontists, prosthodontists, and oral radiologists. Orthodontists are the largest group of specialists. They straighten teeth through the use of braces and other treatments. Oral surgeons perform surgery on the mouth, teeth, gums, and jaws. Pediatric dentists specialize in children, while periodontists treat the gums and bones that support the teeth. Endodontists can perform root canals. Prosthodontists replace missing teeth, while oral radiologists diagnose diseases of the neck and head.

Professional Associations

The main professional association for dentists is the American Dental Association. It was founded in 1859 and is the oldest and largest dental association in the world. It currently has over 157,000 members in all 50 states.

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