Dentists: Job Duties and Requirements for Becoming a General Dentist

Dentists are medical professionals who provide tooth, gum, and mouth care for patients. Learn about the education requirements, necessary skills, employment outlook and salary to determine if this is a career for you.

Career Definition

Dentists are responsible for diagnosing and treating problems with the teeth, gums, and tissue in the mouth. These doctors instruct individuals on brushing, flossing, and all other aspects of dental care. Dentists will meet with patients in their office routinely and remove tooth decay, fill cavities, repair teeth, and treat gum diseases.

How to Become a Dentist

Required Education

According to the American Dental Association,, applicants are required to have a bachelor's degree before being admitted into dental school. Undergrads should focus on many science courses, like biology and chemistry. All applicants must take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT), and dental schools will focus an individual's DAT score, GPA, recommendations, and interviews. Dental school is a 4-year commitment and includes classes on microbiology, biochemistry, anatomy, and physiology, as well as clinical practices, safety, and professional ethics. Dentists are required to be licensed in the state they are working in, which requires passing a written and practical examination.

Skills Required

A career in dentistry requires excellent vision and an aesthetic eye regarding color, space, and shape. Dentists need business sense, communication skills, and self-discipline. These doctors also need to understand the use of dental equipment and know how to supervise hygienists, assistants, technicians, and receptionists.

Career and Economic Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, reported that job opportunities for dentists are expected to remain strong through the coming decade, with a job growth of 21% from 2010-2020. There will be more opportunities for dentists as members of the baby-boom generation get older; the BLS predicted that there would not be enough dentists to meet the needs of communities across the U.S. The median annual salary of dentists was $145,240 as of May 2012.

Alternate Career Options


Also requiring a doctoral degree and about eight years of education, these doctors examine, diagnose and treat eyes, prescribing vision corrections as needed. Much faster than average employment growth of 33% was predicted by the BLS from 2010-2020 for optometrists. These professionals earned a median annual wage of $97,820 in 2012, according to the BLS.

Dental Hygienist

For those interested in providing dental care, but wishing to enter the profession more quickly with an associate's degree, the job of a dental hygienist might be appealing. These professionals examine patients for oral disease, clean teeth and provide patient education. Much faster than average job growth of 38% was projected by the BLS from 2010-2020, and a median annual salary of $70,210 was reported in 2012.

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