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The Science of Healing, The Art of Prevention

What is the Role of a Dentist?

Dentists evaluate the overall oral health of a patient and will diagnose and treat problems with teeth, gums, or other parts of the mouth if necessary. Dentists also teach patients good oral health habits such as brushing, flossing, and avoiding certain foods in order to prevent future issues. During a typical checkup, a dentist will clean the teeth and check for cavities or any other problems with the mouth. They can also apply sealants or whitening solutions to the teeth.

Beyond the typical checkup, the dentist may: remove decay from teeth and fill cavities, repair cracked or fractured teeth and remove teeth, straighten teeth to correct bite issues, examine x rays of teeth, gums, and jaw, and make models and measurements for dental appliances, such as dentures. They can also write prescriptions for antibiotics or other medications.

Their tools include x-ray machines, drills, mouth mirrors, probes, forceps, brushes, scalpels, lasers, digital scanners, and other computer technologies.

What Types of Dentists Are There?

Most dentists are general practitioners and handle a variety of dental needs.

Beyond that, there are 9 specialty areas:

Dental public health specialists
Promote good dental health and the prevention of dental diseases in specific communities.

Perform root-canal therapy.

Oral and maxillofacial radiologists
Diagnose diseases in the head and neck through the use of imaging technologies.

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons
operate on the mouth, jaws, teeth, gums, neck, and head, and can repair cleft lips and palates or remove impacted teeth.

Oral pathologists
Diagnose oral diseases, such as oral cancer or oral lesions (bumps or ulcers in the mouth).

Straighten teeth by using with braces or other appliances.

Pediatric dentists
Focus on dentistry for children and special-needs patients.

Treat the gums and bone supporting the teeth.

Replace missing teeth with permanent fixtures, such as crowns and bridges, or with removable fixtures such as dentures.

What is the Work Environment?

Dentists work in offices either by themselves, with partners, or as associate dentists for more established dentists. They wear masks, gloves, and safety glasses to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases.

Most dentists work full time, and many work evenings and weekends to meet their patients' needs. Dentists in private practice also oversee a variety of administrative tasks, including bookkeeping and buying equipment and supplies. They employ and supervise dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental laboratory technicians, and receptionists.

Dentists held about 155,700 jobs in 2010.

What Are the Educational and Licensing Requirements for Becoming a Dentist?

Education and Training
Most dental students need at least a bachelor's degree before entering dental school; requirements vary by school. All dental schools require applicants to have completed certain required science courses, such as biology and chemistry. Majoring in a science, such as biology, might increase the chances of being accepted, but no specific major is required to enter most dental programs. College undergraduates who plan on applying to dental school must usually take the Dental Acceptance Test (DAT) during their junior year.

Dental schools require students to take classes such as local anesthesia, anatomy, periodontology (the study of oral disease and health), and radiology. All dental schools include practice where students work with patients in a clinical setting under the supervision of a licensed dentist. All nine dental specialties require dentists to complete additional training before practicing that specialty. They must usually take a 1- or 2-year residency in a program related to their specialty.

Required License:

DMD - Doctor of Dental Medicine

DDS - Doctor of Dental Surgery

Dentists must be licensed in all states; requirements vary by state. In most states, a license requires a degree from an accredited dental school and passing a written and practical exam.

In addition, a dentist who wants to practice in one of the nine specialties that all states recognize must have a license in that specialty. This usually requires 2 to 4 years of additional education after dental school and, in some cases, the completion of a special state exam. A postgraduate residency term also may be required, usually lasting up to 2 years.

Which are the top 10 Dental Schools in the US?
#1 University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine
#2 University of California San Francisco School of Dentistry
#3 University of Michigan School of Dentistry
#4 University of Florida College of Dentistry
#5 Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine
#6 New York University College of Dentistry
#7 University of Maryland Dental School
#8 The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Dentistry
#9 University of Southern California School of Dentistry
#10 Everest College-Los Angeles Campus

What is the Average Annual Salary?

The median annual wage of dentists was $146,920 in May 2010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $71,210, and the top 10 percent earned $166,400 or more. Earnings vary according to number of years in practice, location, hours worked, and specialty.

The median annual wages of dentist occupations in May 2010 were the following: greater than $166,400 for oral and maxillofacial surgeons and orthodontists, $161,020 for all other specialists, $141,040 for general dentists, and $118,400 for prosthodontics.

What is the Employment Outlook for a Dentists?

Employment of dentists is expected to grow by 21 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. Dentists will continue to see an increase in public demand for their services as studies continue to link oral health to overall health. Many members of the baby-boom generation will need complicated dental work. Dentists will continue to see an increase in public demand for their services as studies continue to link oral health to overall health. There are still areas of the country where patients have little access to dental care. Whether patients seek care is largely dependent on their insurance coverage. Cosmetic dental services, such as teeth-whitening treatments, will become increasingly popular.