Dentists have feelings, too. Though dentists are dedicated to preventing and treating their patients' tooth and mouth ailments, few professionals, including other physicians, are as dreaded as the dentist. In reality, dentists do a great deal of good. Besides the general practitioner most of us are familiar with, there are also specialists who enable even the ugliest of mouths to shine like the sun. These include orthodontists, who straighten children's and teenagers' teeth and repair chips and fractured molars; periodontists, on the other hand, perform corrective surgery on gums and bones to treat diseases. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons operate on the mouth and jaws, correcting disfigurements from accidents and removing abscessed teeth. Unpleasant as these procedures are, new techniques and anesthetics can minimize the pain and discomfort. Furthermore, if we visited dentists more regularly than most of us do, we could avoid the painful, tooth-drilling experiences that give them a bad rap.
Tough work keeping your teeth clean
Roughly one out of every five health care practices is a dentist's office. Most dentists are solo practitioners and work with a small staff in private practice, although a few have partners, and some are employed by large employers, such as universities or corporations. Dentists with their own businesses have fairly flexible schedules, as they make their own appointments. However, this doesn't mean they're out on the golf course every day. Most dentists work four or five days a week, while some work evenings and on Saturdays to accommodate their patients' schedules.
Being a good dentist requires more than just hard work, though. Dentistry requires keen diagnostic abilities and manual dexterity. Newly minted dentists should also enter the profession armed with a sense of humor, both to put patients at ease and to deflect the poor morale that can stem from patients' uneasiness. And then there are the official prerequisites. Requirements for certification by the American Dental Association (ADA) are strict; candidates must graduate from an ADA-accredited school and pass written and practical examinations after completing four years of dental school.
Aspiring dentists spend four years in dental school, the last two years of which are spent treating patients, usually in clinics under the supervision of licensed dentists. Most dental schools award the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or the Doctor of Dental Medicine degree (DMD). Each year about one-fourth to one-third of new graduates enroll in postgraduate training programs to prepare for a dental specialty such as orthodontics.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia require dentists to be licensed by the American Dental Association in order to practice dentistry. Although a dentist can open up a private practice as soon as this certification is gained, many recent dental school graduates work for established dentists as associates for a year or two in order to gain experience and save money to start their own practices or buy an existing one.
Dentists report that they are "often drained" from a week's work, especially if they are still trying to get established. The pay, however, is well worth it "after about seven years." Even though they are feared by the general public, they "maintain a sense of humor;" one dentist cites actually cites this strange relationship with patients as one of the positives of the job. "I wish I had written down all the funny things that were either done or said in my 20 years of work," says that contact. "We've been in stitches many times."
Good pay; Flexible hours
Long hours; Patient fear and hostility; Intense education
Compassionate; Patient; Comforting
Average about 35 to 40 per week
Median salary for general practitioner: $136,960; Self-employed dentists generally earn more than salaried dentists
DDS or DMD; American Dental Association certification