Dentists held about 146,200 jobs in 2021. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up dentists was distributed as follows:
|Oral and maxillofacial surgeons||6,300|
|Dentists, all other specialists||5,400|
The largest employers of dentists were as follows:
|Offices of dentists||76%|
|Outpatient care centers||2|
|Offices of physicians||2|
Some dentists have their own business and work alone or with a small staff. Other dentists have partners in their practice. Still others work as associate dentists for established dental practices.
Dentists wear masks, gloves, and safety glasses to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases.
Dentists’ work schedules vary. Some work evenings and weekends to meet their patients’ needs. Many dentists work less than 40 hours a week, although some work considerably more.
Dentists must be licensed in the state in which they work. Licensure requirements vary by state, although candidates usually must have a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry/Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree from an accredited dental program and pass written and clinical exams. Dentists who practice in a specialty area must complete postdoctoral training.
Dentists typically need a DDS or DMD degree from a dental program that has been accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). Most programs require that applicants have at least a bachelor’s degree and have completed certain science courses, such as biology or chemistry. Although no specific undergraduate major is required, programs may prefer applicants who have a bachelor's degreein a science, such as biology.
Applicants to dental schools usually take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). Dental schools use this test along with other factors, such as grade point average, interviews, and recommendations, to admit students into their programs.
Dental school programs typically include coursework in subjects such as local anesthesia, anatomy, periodontics (the study of oral disease and health), and radiology. All programs at dental schools include clinical experience in which students work directly with patients under the supervision of a licensed dentist.
As early as high school, students interested in becoming dentists can take courses in subjects such as biology, chemistry, and math.
All dental specialties require dentists to complete additional training before practicing that specialty. This training is usually a 2- to 4-year residency in a CODA-accredited program related to the specialty, which often culminates in a postdoctoral certificate or master’s degree. Oral and maxillofacial surgery programs typically take 4 to 6 years and may result in candidates earning a joint Medical Doctor (M.D.) degree.
General dentists do not need additional training after dental school.
Dentists who want to teach or do research full time may need advanced dental training, such as in a postdoctoral program in general dentistry.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Dentists must be licensed in the state in which they work. All states require dentists to be licensed; requirements vary by state. Most states require a dentist to have a DDS or DMD degree from an accredited dental program, pass the written National Board Dental Examination, and pass a state or regional clinical examination.
In addition, a dentist who wants to practice in a dental specialty must have a license in that specialty. Licensure requires the completion of a residency after dental school and, in some cases, the completion of a special state exam.
Dentists typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Helping interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people.
If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Helping interest which might fit with a career as a dentist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Dentists should also possess the following specific qualities:
Communication skills. Dentists must have excellent communication skills. They must be able to communicate effectively with patients, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and receptionists.
Detail oriented. Dentists must be detail oriented so patients receive appropriate treatments and medications. They must also pay attention to space, shape, and color of teeth. For example, they may need to closely match a false tooth with a patient’s other teeth.
Dexterity. Dentists must be good at working with their hands. They work with tools in a limited area.
Leadership skills. Most dentists work in their own practice. This requires them to manage and lead a staff.
Organizational skills. Strong organizational skills, including keeping accurate records of patient care, are critical in both medical and business settings.
Patience. Dentists may work for long periods of time with patients who need special attention. Children and patients with a fear of dental work may require a lot of patience.
Physical stamina. Dentists should be comfortable performing physical tasks, such as bending over patients for long periods.
Problem-solving skills. Dentists need strong problem-solving skills. They must evaluate patients’ symptoms and choose the appropriate treatments.
The median annual wage for dentists was $163,220 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $63,880, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.
Median annual wages for dentists in May 2021 were as follows:
|Oral and maxillofacial surgeons||$208,000 or more|
|Orthodontists||208,000 or more|
|Dentists, all other specialists||175,160|
In May 2021, the median annual wages for dentists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Offices of dentists||163,650|
|Outpatient care centers||162,120|
|Offices of physicians||159,730|
Wages vary with the dentist’s location, number of hours worked, specialty, and number of years in practice.
Dentists’ work schedules vary. Some work evenings and weekends to meet their patients’ needs. Many dentists work less than 40 hours a week, although some may work considerably more.
Overall employment of dentists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
About 5,100 openings for dentists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
Demand for dentists is expected to increase as larger numbers of older people require dental services. Because each generation is more likely to keep their teeth than the previous generation, more dental care is expected to be needed in the years to come. In addition, dentists will be needed to treat dentofacial injuries and other conditions as well as to perform restorative procedures to treat complications from oral disease, such as gum disease and oral cancer. The growing popularity of cosmetic dentistry also is expected to support demand for dentists.
For more information about dentists, including information on accredited dental schools and state boards of dental examiners, visit
American Dental Association, Commission on Dental Accreditation
For information about admission to dental schools, visit
American Dental Education Association
For more information about general dentistry or on a specific dental specialty, visit
American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
American Academy of Periodontology
American Association of Endodontists
American Association of Orthodontists
American Association of Public Health Dentistry
American College of Prosthodontists
American Society of Dentist Anesthesiologists