Career Review: Dentistry

A medical career as a dentist offers benefits that include a high salary range and the opportunity to own your own practice, making it one of the best careers in medicine.

Dentists specialize in patient oral care and treatments, including identifying and treating problems with teeth and gums, such as cavities or mechanical tooth damage. This medical career offers high salaries, a chance to own your own business and abundant job opportunities. However, it has the highest average student loan debt and the second-highest malpractice insurance costs. Even so, the many possibilities and financial benefits of this advanced medical career earn it our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award.


This medical career offers great financial stability. We looked at salary ranges for the top earners, the bottom earners and those in the middle.

Dentists in the top bracket make an average of $187,200, those at the low end of the scale average $73,840 and the median fort the field is $149,310 per year.

The top 10 percent of dentists make an average annual salary that is one of the highest of comparable advanced healthcare careers. Even better, the median salary for dentists is significantly higher than most high wage ranges. This means that most dentists are earning much higher salaries than their peers in other medical career fields. Even considering the high student loan debt and malpractice insurance, it’s still a financially viable career.

The salary also depends on factors such as the cost of living in the city and state you choose to work in. Most dentists work in private practice offices, either on their own or with other dentists. This type of work environment means that salary is determined by how many patients your practice sees every day. The government and military also employ dentists, and those salaries depend on pay grade. If you go into the military, it may pay for your degree in return for a commitment of several years.

Education and Requirements

You don’t generally need an undergraduate degree first to be admitted to dental school, but dental programs can be competitive depending on the school. Prerequisite courses for dental schools vary from program to program, but most students take about two to three years of undergraduate courses to fulfill the requirements on dental school applications. However, many complete a bachelor’s degree, usually in a related medical science, such as biology. Schools also consider your score on the Dental Admission Test (DAT).

Dental programs generally last for four years, and you graduate with a doctorate. Dental school also comes with one of the highest student loan debts – nearly $250,000 on average, according to the American Student Dental Association. That’s almost $70,000 more than the average debt acquired by doctors.

Upon getting your degree in general dentistry, you can elect to specialize, which requires more education and residency. After completing a dental program, you must pass exams to gain licensure in your state. You’ll also need to get liability insurance, commonly known as malpractice insurance.

Job Availability

Most dental jobs are for general dentists who work with the majority of the population. General practice dentists may also have a specialty, such as orthodontics, that they practice alongside their usual work to increase the number of patients they can take on. The American Dental Association recognizes nine total dental specialty areas, such as pediatric dentistry or oral and maxillofacial surgery, which deals with treating illness, injuries and defects in the neck, face and jaws.

Dentists also have a low unemployment rate due to an aging population and increased preventative dental healthcare needs. The growth rate is low, but steady, and generally secure.

Work Environment

Dentists own their individual practices, or they collaborate with other dentists in a shared practice. Self-employed dentists who work independently have great control of their schedules and their staff and office space. They also need good management skills for running a successful business.

A drawback to owning your own solo practice is finding patients. Many dentists starting out in the field therefore find work in offices with several dentists. Offices with multiple dentists as either co-owners or associates offer under-experienced dentists the opportunity to build up a regular clientele through sharing patients or referrals. Some dentists then move on to begin their own solo practices.

Dentists in private practice have control over their own schedules. Some dentists may choose to work during the weekends or evenings in order to accommodate patients with odd schedules. Because dentists work closely with patients, knowing a second language common to their community means they can have a broader clientele base.


A medical career in dentistry offers some of the highest salary averages of comparable advanced healthcare jobs. There are also numerous specialty options, and you can run your own practice. However, it comes with extremely high student loan debt as well as high malpractice insurance premiums. Even so, dentistry is a well-rounded advanced medical career with excellent stability and opportunities for growth.