Did I make a mistake going into dentistry?

By Sienna Greene, DMD

Did I make a mistake going into dentistry? Why did I become a dentist in the first place? Did I make the right decision? I don’t know if I like it and how do I know I will like it for the rest of my life?

I asked myself these same exact questions both before I graduated and right after I graduated. Even though it’s been more than five years for me since graduation, I still think about the benefits of being a dentist. After careful self-reflection and surveying many fellow dentists, I want to share the multitude of benefits of being a dentist to help you overcome the fear, doubt, and anxiety of being a dentist in the real world!

Some of this list is geared towards being a private practice owner. According to the ADA Health Policy Institute data, 76.1% of dentists in the United States were private practice owners in 2019. However, much of the list pertains to being a dentist in the United States right now.

Autonomy in dentistry

Plain and simple, you are your own boss. You are in complete control of how much money you make, the systems you implement, the insurance companies with whom you are in-network, the materials you want to use, the people with whom you work, the numbers of hours you work, how long you work each day, and your philosophy of practicing, to name a few. Basically, as a practice owner, everything is your decision and no one else gets to tell you what to do or how to do it – it’s all in your control and you can make it what you want! How great is that? There is no other professional field with that much freedom.

Doctor

You are a Doctor of Dental Surgery, or Doctor of Dental Medicine (depending on what school you graduated from) immediately the day you get your diploma. You have earned both prestige and respect immediately when you are a doctor and that is a huge benefit to help your self-esteem. You are at the top of the top and therefore are in a great position to help dental patients, the community at large, and the world, if you strive to do so.

Help people feel better about themselves

Remember when you were in college, and you were dating people … and “good teeth” was a must-have on your list of people with whom you would go out? Being a dentist, you help patients with “bad teeth” and transform them into having a beautiful smile. This, in turn, will help people feel better about themselves, not having to go through life with “bad teeth” in this world. A dentist helps his or her patient avoid the shame and dread of not being able to smile or talk to others due to “bad teeth” or “bad breath.” That is truly powerful!

Help people get out of pain

People will love you forever after you relieve the pain of an irreversible pulpitis or acute abscess! Some patients will tell you that having a horrible toothache is worse than childbirth. If you can be the person helping a person out of that kind of pain, it feels good to be a dentist!

Problem solving

If you are a dentist or in dental school, I can safely say that you enjoy problem solving and coming up with the correct answer or multiple correct answers. Dentists thrive on not only getting the problem corrected, but making it as perfect as possible. There is no lack of problem solving in dentistry. You solve problems every day as a dentist! You use your analytical skills which for us, as dentists, is fun!

Variety

Piggybacking on the point above, every day is different because every patient is different and every tooth is different. Do you like talking to different people and helping to solve problems that you are trained to solve? You will not be bored in dentistry. Not many people in their professional field can honestly say that their days are not boring.

Relationships

You form good, honest, trustworthy relationships with people. This is something that comes with time, but is one of the best benefits in my opinion. There is a saying, “You should love your dentist.” You get to know your patients. You get to know their families and children. You get to see your patients grow from kids to teenagers to adults. Some patients become your friend. It is truly a wonderful thing in this world to form these genuine relationships and your patients will love you!

Wearing multiple hats in dentistry

You have probably heard of this one before, but it is 100% true. It is exciting that, as a dentist, you are a boss, an artist, a healthcare professional, a manager, a scientist, and a leader … all at the same time. Not only is every patient and every tooth different, wearing different hats means you have a variety of roles in your professional life that are exciting, albeit challenging at times, that keep you on your toes every day. Your staff and patients look to you for the answers and the right systems that work in your practice.

Work-life balance

This benefit is huge and sometimes underestimated by our society. It’s usually a “work hard now, retire later” mentality. In dentistry, however, you have the luxury of picking your own hours so that you are not working 80 hours a week and never seeing your family and friends. As a woman in dentistry, it’s especially nice that you can have a family and work as a dentist and still keep a healthy work-life balance.

Good income

Did you think you went to school for several years, took out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt, and took out a business loan to buy a practice to work for peanuts? No! In dentistry, another benefit is that you do earn a good, healthy, solid income. You need to be able to earn a good income to help support your loan payments, but also a work-life balance for yourself and your family. This helps to ensure good mental and emotional health for the long run of being a dentist.

Always more to learn in dentistry

Just when you thought you mastered how to do that Class II posterior composite or surgical extraction, there is more out there to learn … a lot more to learn. But that is something that as a professional, you really are a lifelong student, and so I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you love learning and thus improving yourself. This will be a tremendous benefit when you are working on and with your patients every day. It will also help you become a better dentist.

I anticipate that this list helps to calm some questions or fears you may have had or currently have. It is by no means a comprehensive list. However, from my perspective it does sum up many of the great benefits of being a dentist. Hopefully it helps you answer the question of why you chose the field in the first place.

About the author: Sienna Greene, DMD, is devoted to lifelong learning in the dental field.

Note on photo: “think hard” by mutsmuts is licensed with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

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