Learning to Take Better Care of Your Family's Teeth

The 411 On Dentists: A Look At how The Dentistry Field Has Grown

Many people understand a general definition of what dentist is and does, but what more is there to know about them? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012, there were about 146,800 dentists in the United States, with a median annual wage of $149,310. About 80 percent of dentists are general dentists, meaning they deal with basic dental repair and maintenance for people of all ages.

The need for dentists has resulted in a faster-than-average rate of employment--it is expected to grow 16 percent between 2012 and 2022.

What Is Required To Become A Dentist?

No matter what state a dentist practices in, he or she must be licensed. However, the requirements for licensing vary by state. In most cases, a dentist will have completed the following steps:

  1. Completion of a minimum of two years of undergraduate study, usually in some science-related field such as biology or chemistry.
  2. Application to and acceptance at a dental school. (Dental schools require applicants to pass a Dental Admissions Test.)
  3. Completion of a four-year dental program at an accredited school that includes two years of classes and labs and two years of practical experience working with patients.
  4. Passage of a written and practical exam that varies by state.

In many cases, your dentist has completed eight years or more of higher education before making the transition into the professional workforce. A dentist's education can extend far into the future, as he or she keeps up to date with their career's latest techniques and practices. 

What Can Dentists Specialize In?

While all dentists must meet minimum qualifications, some complete additional education and training in order to specialize in a certain area of dental care. Based on your circumstances, it may be a good idea to look for a dentist who specializes in a particular area:

  • Endodontics - Most endodontists have an additional two years of study. They specialize in the treatment of dental pulp--the inside of the tooth.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Radiology, and Surgery - Those who specialize in pathology study the causes and effects of oral disease.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology - This area focuses on the taking and reading of oral images, including digital images, MRIs, and more.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery - Oral and Maxillofacial surgeons diagnose and treat problems that deal with the neck, head, jaw, and surrounding areas.
  • Orthodontics - Orthodontists focus on the treatment of abnormal dental developments.
  • Pediatric Dentistry - Pediatric dentists specialize in the treatment of children from their birth up through their adolescence.
  • Periodontics - Periodontists emphasize the care and treatment of gums and the surrounding bones
  • Prosthodontics - The field of prosthodontics is concerned with the use of appliances to replace lost teeth.