Dentists diagnose, prevent, and treat problems of the teeth and tissues of the mouth. They remove decay and fill cavities, examine x-rays, place protective plastic sealants on children’s teeth, straighten teeth, and repair fractured teeth. They also perform corrective surgery of the gums and supporting bones to treat gum diseases. Dentists extract teeth and make molds and measurements for dentures to replace missing teeth.
Most dentists are general practitioners, handling a variety of dental needs. Other dentists practice in any of nine specialty areas:
- Endodontics – root canal and related therapy
- Oral/masillofacial surgery – surgery of the mouth and jaw
- Oral pathology – investigating the cause, process, and effect of dental disease
- Orthodontics – correction of teeth placement and facial structures
- Pediatric dentistry – for infants through adolescents
- Periodontics – treatment with artificial teeth and dentures
- Public health dentistry – preventing and controlling dental disease
- Private practice
- Group dental practice
- Public clinics
- Teaching institutions
- Research facilities
- Private industry
Most dentists work as solo practitioners and own their own business. Some dentists have partners and a few work for other dentists as associates.
Most dentists work 4 or 5 days a week. Some work evenings and weekends to meet their patients’ needs. The number of hours worked varies greatly among dentists. Most full-time practitioners work between 35 and 40 hours each week. However, others, especially those who are trying to establish a new practice, work more. Also, experienced dentists often work fewer hours. It is common for dentists to continue in part-time practice well beyond the usual retirement age.
Employment of dentists is expected to grow 16 percent from 2008 to 2018, faster than the average for all occupations. There will be a need to replace a large number of dentists expected to retire. In Nebraska, a two-year study by UNMC’s Nebraska Center for Rural Health Research, found that 25 of the state’s 90 counties currently has a shortage of dentists. The study also predicted that Nebraska will face future shortages of dentists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that growing demand will be fueled by population growth, middle-aged and older people retaining their teeth, and a growing emphasis on preventative dental care. Also, the growing elderly population will mean an increased need for complicated dental work. Other factors expected to increase the demand for dentists include a trend toward better dental insurance coverage and the growing popularity of cosmetic dental services.
- Ability to learn the complex science, math, and the methods and techniques of dentistry
- Strong verbal abilities for effective oral and written communication with the healthcare team
- Analytical abilities for measuring, calculating and evaluating
- Strong manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination
- Good space and form perception
- Good observational skills and ability to relate to all kinds of people
- Scientific curiosity, emotional maturity, and empathy
Graduation from an accredited dental school is required, which usually takes four years. To enter a dental school, a person must have 3-4 years of college study in pre-dentistry, have a high grade point average, and pass the Dental Admissions Test. After graduation, a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) is awarded. To specialize or teach, a dentist must spend an additional 2-4 years in advanced dental training. Researchers in dentistry may pursue a master’s or doctorate degree.
After the completion of dental school, graduates may enter the practice of general dentistry or pursue advanced training in a specialty area.
A license is required to practice as a dentist. Applicants for licensure must graduate from an accredited school or college of dentistry, pass the required exams.
Programs in Nebraska
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Career information adapted in part from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handook, 2010-2011 Edition, Dentists, on the Internet at www.bls.gov