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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 a General Dentist

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.

Education Doctoral degree in dentistry
Job Skills Communication, leadership, organization, problem solving
Median Salary (2015) $152,700 (all general dentists)
Job Growth (2014-2024) 18% (all general dentists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

According to the American Dental Association, www.ada.org, 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, www.bls.gov) reported that job opportunities for dentists are expected to remain strong through the coming decade, with a job growth of 18% from 2014-2024. 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 $152,700 as of May 2015.

Alternate Career Options

An education in medicine and dental care can prepare you for a variety of similar occupations, including optometry and dental hygiene.

Optometrist

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 27% was predicted by the BLS from 2014-2024 for optometrists. These professionals earned a median annual wage of $103,900 in 2015, 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 19% was projected by the BLS from 2014-2024, and a median annual salary of $72,330 was reported in 2015.

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