By Jennifer Murphy, DDS, FAGD
Are you considering becoming a dentist? There certainly are many reasons why one would want to choose dentistry as his or her profession. It is a career that provides many rewards, challenges, and opportunities. Dentists are often at the top of the list of the best jobs year after year. Let’s explore the reasons why and look at the benefits of being a dentist.
Helping people as a dentist
Most of us choose dentistry because we want to help people. As a dentist, there are many opportunities to help people. Patients come to us seeking our care. We have the knowledge and skills as dentists to help them and provide guidance for their oral health.
While there are patients who say they “hate the dentist,” most patients are grateful for your care, especially when they are in pain. It is very satisfying helping a patient in pain or having a patient tear up because you’ve given him or her a more esthetically pleasing smile.
Working with your hands
It is a good feeling working with your hands. You get to use your own hands to help patients achieve better oral health. Along with working with your hands, you have opportunities to be creative at times. Much of the time in dentistry, you are creating. There is also the artistic side of dentistry. I once worked with a dentist who looked at dentistry like she got to do arts and crafts all day!
Seeing immediate results
During undergrad one summer, I spent in a research lab and did not obtain any type of results over those three months. It was frustrating! With most dental procedures, you can obtain immediate results. As a dentist, you often diagnose decay, remove it with a handpiece/bur, and then replace with a composite filling. There is something to be said for that immediate result and sense of accomplishment in doing so.
Being a dentist is financially rewarding
Most everyone knows dentists make a good living. I often feel that when I say I’m a dentist, people think dollar signs and not teeth. Dentistry definitely does provide a good income, particularly for the time worked. The national average annual income for a general dentist is $175,840. The average number of hours spent per week treating patients is 33. That equates to over $111 per hour (with four weeks off a year). However, just note that you will work hard for that income.
Freedom and flexibility
As a dentist, you have many options of how you can choose to practice. You have the ability to own your own practice and be your own boss. You can choose to work for a company or DSO (corporate dentistry) or private practice. In each of those situations, you can practice solo or in a group with several other dentists.
Public health is another route many take, doing dentistry for a government entity in a federal, state, or local capacity. Examples include the Indian Health Services, state or local health departments, or FQHCs (Federally Qualified Health Centers), just to name a few. In short, there are multiple career paths one can take as a dentist.
Along with the practicalities of what type of practice you choose as a general dentist, you can decide how you want to practice. As a general dentist, you can choose what procedures you do or don’t do. Some dentists do most everything in their offices, some may opt to refer all of their endodontic procedures, and others may choose to only focus on sleep medicine. There really are a lot of possibilities depending on what you enjoy and how you want to practice.
Better work-life balance
Most dentists work weekdays and typical business hours. This certainly can vary, depending on if you are working for a private office versus a corporate office. I’ve found most private offices work standard 8-5. However, many corporate offices will work earlier or later hours to try to attract more patients. But ultimately there are many options and if you choose to run your own practice you are the boss and get to set your own schedule.
Aside from setting work hours, you can also choose how many days you work. Dentists typically work anywhere from two to five days per week. Some get creative with their schedule to have longer weekends every other week while still offering patients plenty of appointment options. Basically, there are many possibilities for days and hours worked which can improve work-life balance compared to other careers.
Dentists have and always will be in demand. Having moved around and lived in three states, I’ve seen that there are always a plethora of job opportunities as a dentist. As a dentist, you are a highly trained professional with specific skills. People will always have dental issues and needs for seeing a dentist, whether that is for preventative, restorative, or surgical treatment. Most people go to the dentist at some point in or throughout their lives. Even when there may be an economic downturn, dentistry remains one of the most stable professions.
There certainly is some prestige in being a doctor. Family and friends may admire you for your years of dedication as a student to earn your doctorate degree. As a dentist, you are often a respected member of the community as well as a role model in your community. Dentists are typically highly trusted and respected. A 2019 poll from MoneyWise lists dentist as among the most respected professions in the U.S.
Every day is interesting. You get to meet lots of different people. Every patient is unique and presents with his or her specific issues and concerns along with his or her own personality and situation. Every day is challenging. Procedures each present with their own difficulties. Diagnosing and treatment planning can be like playing detective, especially if there is an inconspicuous problem a patient has. You’ll also be interacting with staff every day, which can also be interesting and challenging as well as each brings his/her own distinctive personalities to the office.
Dentistry is constantly evolving. Technology and materials change. You will always be learning and growing as a dentist. There are continuing education requirements to renew and keep your dental license in good standing. These things mean you will be taking continuing education and learning all the time. It may be about a specific material or technology, practice management, or even a form of personal development! As a dentist, you certainly get to learn all the time.
So now what do you think? Do those benefits still make you want to become a dentist? While many of these benefits sound outstanding (and they certainly are), be sure to explore the disadvantages as well. Talk with practicing dentists and even spend time with them in their offices to get a full picture of what being a dentist involves. Remember, everything has its pros and cons. While this article highlights the benefits, I want to note that being a dentist isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and the field of dentistry is constantly evolving.
Dr. Jennifer Murphy graduated with a Doctorate of Dental Surgery in 2006 from The Ohio State University. She is a member in good standing of the American Dental Association, North Carolina Dental Association, and the Academy of General Dentistry. Dr. Murphy earned her Fellowship from the Academy of General Dentistry in 2021. In addition to practicing general dentistry, she is also a practice coach for Benco Dental.