General Dentist vs. Dental Specialist

By: Dr. Cory Ball

12 years of grade school, 4 years of undergraduate studies, maybe a master’s program, and 4 years of dental school.

Now you are debating on doing more school?

Do you want to be a general dentist or go on to do a specialty in orthodontics, oral surgery, pediatrics, endodontics, periodontics, etc?

I think if you are debating specializing there are a few key questions to ask yourself to help determine what is the path for you.

Tips on Choosing General Dentistry vs. Dental Specialist

1. What aspects of dentistry do you like the most?

Dentistry is an awesome field, but it comes with its fair share of challenges and aspects that can make it a grueling profession if you are not enjoying your daily work.

  • Do you absolutely hate dentures?
    • Prost likely isn’t for you.
  • Do you cringe when you see that kid kicking and screaming in a public place?
    • Reconsider pediatrics.
  • Do you want to get really good at placing implants and do it on a regular basis?
    • Oral surgery and Perio could be up your alley.

I am a general dentist and love it. The main reason for me is the variety. I love that one day I could do three root canals and the next have all the fillings and the next crowns or a mixed bag all in one day.

For me, it wasn’t that I didn’t love an aspect of dentistry to specialize in. Instead, it was the feeling that I would miss out on something else I love to do.

If I was forced to specialize, I likely would do endodontics.

I find the puzzle of root canals to be really fun. Sure it’s a challenge, but endodontists serve a phenomenal purpose of helping patients get out of pain, saving an infected tooth, etc.

The extra years of school did not sound fun but also wasn’t a deterrent.

The main reason I did not want to specialize?

One of my favorite procedures is crown & bridge. The whole procedure to me is a blast. Prep a nice margin, get a great scan or reading a slam dunk PVS impression, look at those crisp margins on a radiograph, etc. I couldn’t picture myself not doing crown and bridge anymore so I elected to go general and then I could pick and choose what I want in my schedule.

2. Do you have a healthy job opportunity?

Another reason I elected to go into general dentistry was I had an amazing opportunity to return to my hometown and practice there.

That might not be an option for you or it might not be something you even want.

If the job market for a general dentist is not ideal but is in a specialty that you enjoy… consider doing that specialty.

3. Are you thinking specializing would result in more money?

First, I would say to make decisions based on your passions and the love for the work before the money.

The old saying money cannot buy happiness is just as true in dentistry as it is in many work environments and maybe more so.

We have patients, insurance companies, labs, etc that expect a lot of us and will voice their displeasures.

If you think money will help your stress dealing with all those parties, think again.

Second, I would look at the market you are hoping to enter and who your target audience is.

Some general practitioners produce more than specialists and in terms of income can actually make more.

4. What about the return on investment?

As a dentist, you already invested in around eight years of college.

So if you want to add additional education, whether that is a full-on specialty or a general practice residency, it would behoove you to look into if it is worth it in the short and long term.

If you are likely to make only a little bit more as a specialist and it is going to cost you 2-3 years of practice, you may actually be short-changing yourself.

5. Are you a good applicant?

Just like when you applied to college and when you applied to dental school, you have to look at your overall body of work.

The GPA, letters of rec, extracurricular activities, etc all go into a residency program application as well.

Consider All Factors When Choosing Between General Dentist vs. Dental Specialist

There are many factors to consider when you are thinking of applying.

The application process itself costs money so include that in your analysis on if the ROI is worth it.

It also needs to be said that the option to practice dentistry as a general practitioner and then go back to specialize is also always an option!

See what the real world of dentistry is like, see what aspects you love or don’t, and then decide if you are not positive in your last year of school.

Up Next: How to Handle Your First Paycheck as a New Dentist

Dr. Cory Ball

Dr. Cory Ball

Originally from Rockford, MI, Dr. Cory Ball went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for his undergraduate studies. There he studied Biology and German. Straight after undergrad, he continued his studies at the University of Michigan dental school. At the conclusion of his dental school education, Dr. Ball was awarded the comprehensive care award for being one of the top clinicians in his class as well as the Academy of Operative Dentistry and American Academy of Oral & Maxillofacial Radiology awards. Dr. Ball has always had a passion for mentoring, volunteering, and helping others in his community. Throughout dental school, he held various positions for the philanthropic fraternity, Alpha Omega. The volunteer events Dr. Ball has participated with include Mission of Mercy, Taft clinic, Give Kids a Smile, Sports Mouthguard clinics and recently is on the board for a local refugee committee to help underserved individuals in his West Michigan communities. Dr. Ball has a passion for all areas of dentistry, but his favorite procedures include root canals, crowns, bridges and has a special passion for sleep dentistry and assisting patients who may be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. When not behind the drill, Dr. Ball enjoys spending time with his family in Grand Rapids, MI, and with his wife, Cara. On weekends and evenings, you would find Dr. Ball hanging out watching new shows on Netflix, playing new board games, or watching sports. Dr. Ball is a big Chicago sports fan and, of course, Michigan. Go Blue!