Dentists deal with physical problems involving teeth or mouth tissue. They diagnose, prevent, and treat these problems, removing decay, filling cavities, examining x rays, placing protective plastic sealants on children’s teeth, straightening teeth, and repairing fractured teeth. They perform corrective surgery on gums, replace missing teeth, and give instruction to patients concerning diet, brushing, flossing, and using fluoride. They use many types of equipment, such as x ray machines, drills, and instruments such as mouth mirrors, probes, forceps, brushes, and scalpels. In order to protect themselves from infectious diseases, they wear masks, gloves, and safety glasses.
Most dentists are general practitioners and are responsible for a wide range of dental procedures. Others specialize in one particular area. Orthodontists straighten teeth using braces and retainers; oral surgeons operate on the mouth and jaw; pediatric dentists work with children; periodontists treat gums and supporting bones; prosthodontists replace missing teeth with crowns, bridges, or dentures; endodontists perform root canal therapy; public-health dentists promote good dental health through education; oral pathologists study oral diseases; and oral radiologists diagnose diseases in the head and neck.
Dentists should have good visual memory, good special judgment, well-developed manual dexterity, and a scientific aptitude. Those who start a private practice need to have good business sense, self-discipline, and good communication skills.
In 2002, dentists earned a median annual salary of $123,210. Earnings varied depending on experience, location, and specialty. Self-employed dentists earned more, on average, than salaried dentists.
Training and Education
Dentists must be certified in all 50 States and the District of Columbia. Most State licenses require graduation from one of the 55 dental schools accredited by the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation and the successful completion of an examination. In order to be accepted into a dental school, students must have at least 2 years of college-level predental education, but most have a bachelor’s degree. Applicants must take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT), scores from which help determine an applicant’s admission, along with grade point average, recommendations, and interviews. Competition for admission to dental programs is high. Dental school usually lasts 4 academic years, and upon graduation, students are granted the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or the equivalent Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD).
In 2002, dentists held about 153,000 jobs. About 2 in 5 were self-employed. About 80% in private practice were sole proprietors, and 13% belonged to a partnership.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of dentists is expected to increase more slowly than the average. Demand for dental care will rise, due to the aging baby-boom generation and the large number of retiring dentists. However, more dentists are expected to hire dental hygienists and dental assistants to help meet this demand. Dentists are expected to provide more services that relate to preventing the loss of teeth, rather than dealing with dental problems as they arise.
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