What do you do for a living?
I’m a general dentist.
I do anything that pertains to surgery, cleaning, hygiene, or fillings in someone’s mouth.
What does your work entail?
I do fillings and root canals and surgical extractions, regular extractions, removal of wisdom teeth, removal of canines, soft tissues etc.
What’s a typical work week like?
Typical for me and I would say for most dentists is Monday – Thursday, 8 a.m. until 5:30 or 6. I usually end up working through lunch too, because that’s my personal preference; if I’m going to be there, I want to be there working. 90 percent of my work is with patients, either doing an exam or a procedure, with the rest of the time working on office stuff.
How did you get started?
Dentistry is in my family, and that is how I got introduced to it. I went to school and started taking my science courses and I really liked them, and also I liked the interaction with people and helping them in some sort of capacity; I liked it that dentistry really allowed me to do that. And it is a trade also. I wanted a job that required a license because I feel like when you’re licensed to do something, you will always have a job.
What do you like about what you do?
I would say first and foremost, being able to talk to people or getting to be around and help people. I also like working with my hands. And I’m not an artist, by any means, but you have to have a good eye and be good with your hands. You have to know what looks natural and what doesn’t, which is really funny because a lot of patients don’t want what looks natural; they want what looks fake, which we hate:).
You have to have good patient interaction because at the end of the day no one knows how good of a dentist you are but they do know how your bedside manner is and how you treat them.
Sometimes they’ll say, “oh my gosh this isn’t perfectly straight” and you tell them, “look at my tooth, my tooth is natural and it’s not perfectly straight, that’s why it looks good”.
What do you dislike?
I really don’t think there’s anything I don’t like about dentistry. I really don’t. I like it that much. But sometimes I feel like I have to be strict and I feel like I’m giving lectures to patients[when they guidance about tooth care or are doing bad things to their teeth]. I don’t like conflict so that’s kind of hard for me. But, at that same time, when it must be said, it has to be said.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
It’s fee for service.
How much money do you make as a general dentist?
I make around $200,000 – $250,000 after taxes. You are very well reimbursed and you can make up to a million. It just depends. It depends on how good you are, where you practice. But, I would say the range is like $200,000 to a million.
Somebody who owns their own practice in a small town can make more than someone in a city, because when you’re in a big city the market is saturated. I just feel like you can do better when you’re in a smaller town and because you end up doing more of your procedures, you can make more. In a city, you end up referring a lot of patients, but in a small town you can’t, you’re forced to do everything.
How much money do you make starting out?
The average salary, I think, is about $170,000, but that is looking at someone who has not been working for 10 years. People that have established practices make much more. On the other hand teachers and professors in dentistry don’t make that much. People in public health don’t make that much. My first year I made $200,000 after taxes.
What education or skills are needed to become a Dentist?
Most dental schools require a four-year undergraduate degree. I don’t think you necessarily have to have that, but you do have to have the requirements, so that usually means you have a major in biology and at least a minor in chemistry, so you have to take a bunch of sciences. You have to take the DAT which is the admissions exam and you have to have a certain GPA and you have to have a certain score on that to get an interview. Then dental school is four years. After dental school, you can choose a specialization, and depending on which specialization you decide to take, it’s a two to six-year program afterwards.
As for skills, I would say you have to be good with people, especially as a general dentist; as a specialist I don’t think you have to be as good; but you have to have good patient interaction because at the end of the day no one knows how good of a dentist you are but they do know how your bedside manner is and how you treat them. The better you are at that, that better you are as a dentist. You may have the best hand skills in the world, but patients won’t appreciate that, because they don’t always know.
What is most challenging about what you do?
Working in a very tiny, dark space. And, there’s fluids where you have to keep things dry. Sometimes it can be really challenging, especially when a patient can’t open their mouth.
Also, people are very, very, very scared of the dentist and I probably hear that 10 times a day: “it’s not you, I really like you but I just hate the dentist and I’m so scared and I had this one bad experience.” Seriously, every other patient, I get a story like that. It doesn’t bother me, but I’ve talked to some older dentists, and they sometimes get a chip on their shoulder.
What is most rewarding?
I guess, if I’m being completely honest I would say helping people and being financially successful. You’re very well reimbursed for what we do. Also, having the freedom of not being on call. Unlike some other medical specialties, you aren’t in the position where you have someone’s life in your hands. The biggest thing you can do is ruin someone’s tooth, but even then you always have options. Although it can be stressful at times and you do have to know what you’re doing at the end of the day but it’s not like you’re in the middle of somebody’s guts and they’re not going to wake up.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
To do well in school and to do a bunch of shadowing to see if it’s something they really want to do; it’s hard to know until you really get into it, because you don’t start drilling and doing all of that until you really start working with patients. You have no way of really knowing if you’re going to get along with it. The other advice is to have a good GPA, of at least 3.6 on science courses. Your science GPA is what is important.
Are there any perks associated with your job:
You are your own boss, and you make a decent living. I feel like it’s still a respected field. You can choose your own hours, you can work as hard or as little as you want. You are always learning. For the rest of my life I will continue learning about something I like, which I think is good.
I love it, I love dentistry. It’s the best thing in the whole world. My friends and I talk about it all the time. We feel that we’re so lucky.
How much time off do you get/take?
I take every Friday off, which comes to about six weeks a year.
I can also take vacations. Right now I don’t take off very much because I take off Fridays and that’s enough for me. But, later, I’ll probably take two weeks at a time.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
A lot of people who have never had a toothache think all we do is exams and cleanings. If they have never had a filling, root canal, or an extraction they probably don’t realize how much we do. And others think we’re scary, which is a common misconception about dentists. I probably hear that ten times a day “it’s not you, I really like you but I just hate the dentist and I’m so scared and I had this one bad experience”.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
To be the very best that I can be. Seriously, I want to be the best dentist. I want to know everything; I want to be very well educated. I already own the practice but I still want to go back to school and want to specialize and get the continued education.
What else would you like people to know about what you do?
I really do think it’s the best job in the world. When I was in college, there were six of us that were best friends; three of us were biology majors and one of them wanted to go to medical school and one of them wanted to do research and I convinced both of them to go to dental school; today, they think it’s the best decision they ever made. You don’t have to be on call, and when you have a family you can still work as much or as little as you want, and you are going to be well-reimbursed for your work.