Job Duties of a Dentist

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the duties of Dentists as follows:

  • Remove decay from teeth and fill cavities
  • Repair or remove damaged teeth
  • Place sealants or whitening agents on teeth
  • Administer anesthetics to keep patients from feeling pain during procedures
  • Prescribe antibiotics or other medications
  • Examine x rays of teeth, gums, the jaw, and nearby areas in order to diagnose problems
  • Make models and measurements for dental appliances, such as dentures
  • Teach patients about diets, flossing, the use of fluoride, and other aspects of dental care

To perform their routine tasks, Dentists use different kinds of equipment, including x-ray machines, mouth mirrors, drills, brushes, scalpels and probes. They also use digital scanners, lasers and other advanced technologies and equipment.

Requirements to Become a Dentist in the US

The requirements to become a dentist in the US are three-fold:

    1. Education

You will need at least a 4-year long DDS or a DMD to enter this field, after completing a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institute.

    1. Training

If you have chosen to specialize in a particular field of dentistry, you will be required to complete additional training before you can begin practicing in that field. This would typically be a 2 to 4 year long residency in an accredited program for the specific specialty. At the end of this training, you will typically receive a certificate or a master’s degree. General dentists do not need to get this training after completing dental schools. Specializations for dentists are discussed in this article later on.

    1. Licensing

This is a mandatory requirement for those who want to practice dentistry in any state of the US. To be licensed, candidates will have to pass the written National Board of Dental Exam, along with a state or regional exam. Dentists who want to practice in a particular area of the field will require a license in that specialty.


How to Become a Dentist in the US

If you are considering getting into this field, the following information on steps to become a dentist would be of use to you.

    1. Complete a High School Diploma

At this stage, you are advised to take classes in math and science, to build a strong foundation for future studies.

    1. Get a Bachelor’s Degree

Dental schools require applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree, in any major. Recommended coursework includes biology, physics and chemistry.

    1. Clear the Dental Admission Test (DAT)

Applicants for dental schools are required to take this standardized test, which is used by admission committees, along with other factors, to judge a student’s competence. Other requirements include a certain minimum GPA, recommendation letters and interviews etc.

    1. Enroll in a Dentist School

Dentists typically need a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry/Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree from an accredited dental program. Accreditation needs to come from the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). While in dental school, students study subjects such as anatomy, local anesthesia, radiology and periodontics. The last two years of dental school focus more on clinical practice, where students diagnose and treat patients under the supervision of a senior dental surgeon.

    1. Get Licensed

Dentists are required to be licensed in every state. The requirements vary from state to state, though typically, a DDS or a DMD is needed from an accredited dental program. In addition to this, candidates are also required to pass clinical and written exams to get their license. Dentists who practice in a specialty area are required to complete postdoctoral training as well.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Dentist in the US?

After completing a high school diploma, aspiring dentists need to complete a 4-year long bachelor’s degree, followed by a 4-year long dental school. Following this, general dentists can apply for licensure. So, all in all, it would take you 8 years to be qualified for license to practice as a dentist.

If you have a specialization in a particular field of dentistry, you will have to spend an additional 2 to 6 years on a residency program. This would be in addition to your dental degree. Therefore, in this case, the total amount of time taken to become a specialized dentist would amount up to 10 to 14 years.

Specializations for Dentists

Specialty areas for dentists include the following:

  • Dental Anesthesiologists
  • Endodontists
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologists
  • Dental and Public Health Specialists
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
  • Oral Pathologists
  • Orthodontists
  • Pediatric Dentists
  • Periodontists

How Much Can I Make as a Dentist in the US?

As per 2018 data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dentists earned $156,240 per year, and $75.12 per hour as median income. The lowest ten percent in the field earned less than $72,840 and the highest 10% earned more than $208,000. The highest paying industry for dentists was offices of dentists, paying $161,610 in median salaries, followed by outpatient care centers that paid $146,530.

Dentists working as oral and maxillofacial surgeons earned $208,000 or more, as did orthodontists.

Job Outlook for Dentists in the US

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the growth in the field of dentistry at 7%, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This demand is driven by the aging population.