Dentist: Executive Summary

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Want a healthcare job in which you're self-employed? Dentistry is one of the best paying. And if the cost of opening a practice is daunting, employment opportunities are increasing.

Except for the rare emergency, you'll have regular hours—unlike doctors, who often work 60 hours a week or more, including weekends.

Dentistry blends art, science, and people skills, a satisfying combination for many career seekers. Another plus: You can live virtually anywhere you want: Dentists are needed in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Of course, you have to feel OK about groping around in people's mouths all day. You must be good with your hands, have strong visual memory, and exercise excellent judgment between space and shape—which is critical in creating tooth caps and false teeth. You also need a strong back: Leaning over patients all day can take a toll. But most dentists like their careers, with the vast majority staying in the field until retirement. Even after closing their practices, many continue to work part time in other dentists' offices.

Median Pay

National: $120,864. More pay data by metropolitan area

(Data provided by PayScale.com)

Training

The American Dental Education Association lists accredited U.S. and Canadian dental schools.

Smart Specialties

  • Orthodonture. It takes two or three years of additional training to learn how to straighten teeth with braces, rubber bands, retainers, and headgear. But pay is very high, and you get to know your patients well because you see them frequently over a long period. There's a high success rate, too: You get to see nearly every patient walk out with a better smile. Some dentists would have chosen orthodonture except that they prefer to spend their days talking with adults. Most orthodonture patients are children.
  • Veterinary Dentist. One thing that makes it appealing: There's a shortage. And unlike regular dentists, you typically knock out your patient, so there's no squealing or back talk.

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