Skip to Main Content

The goal of all dental care is to maintain or improve patients' oral health. Oral health has been discovered to be closely linked to a person's overall health and well-being. In the early years of dentistry, dentists were most concerned with treating patients with tooth decay and abscesses. Today, most dentists perform a mix of preventive care and treatment, with the goal of preventing serious dental issues and treating disease as early as possible to keep it from becoming more troublesome.

Over the years, the American Dental Association (ADA), an association of dentists in the United States, has recommended specific methods for maintaining good oral health, including the number of times patients should brush and how often they should visit their dentist for cleanings, X rays, and examinations. These are the dentist's primary methods for maintaining their patients' oral health.

The American Dental Association says it has more than 161,000 members as of 2017, in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) says there were 151,500 dentist jobs in the United States in 2014. The dental industry as a whole was valued at approximately $60 billion according to a report published by the Dental Trade Alliance (DTA), and this association predicts a dramatic increase in the need for dentists due to the equally significant increase in patients in the age range of 60–79 over the next 10 years.

The earliest forms of dentistry can be traced back to the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks, from archaeologists' evidence of dental treatment from thousands of years ago. This evidence shows that the ancient Egyptians treated toothache and swollen gums in the 16th century B.C. Around 1250 B.C., Greek physician Aesculapius became the first recorded supporter of tooth extraction.

Dentistry as it is more commonly practiced today, however, was first developed by the French dentist Pierre Fauchard, the father of modern dentistry, who wrote Le Chirurgien Dentiste (The Surgeon Dentist) in 1728. He also developed the first orthodontic treatment methods and devised techniques for making dentures.

The most common business model in the dental industry is the independent practitioner with his or her own group of assistants, hygienists, and office personnel. Large corporate groups are also common, as are dental specialists. Specialty areas include dental surgeons, pediatric dentists, orthodontists, and periodontists (dentists who specialize in the treatment of gum disease).

One trend that began in the 21st century and has continued to increase is a rise in the number of women dentists. According to the ADA, since 2001, the total market of active licensed women dentists has gone from 26,870 to 47,814 (as of 2012, the most recent year this data was released)—a 43.8 percent increase. Also, about 40 percent of students attending dental school are also women. Most employees in the dental industry are dentists, hygienists, dental assistants, dental laboratory technicians, and office workers.