Dentists focus on maintaining oral health through such preventive and repair practices as extracting, filling, cleaning or replacing teeth; performing corrective work, such as straightening teeth; treating diseased tissue of the gums; performing surgical operations on the jaw or mouth; and making and fitting false teeth.

Educational Requirements

To be a dentist, one must attend dental school after graduating from college. College grades are carefully considered when applying to dental school. Most dental schools require applicants to pass the DAT or Dental Admissions Test, which tests a student's ability to succeed in dental school. There are excellent dental schools across the country to which interested students may apply for admission.

A prospective dental student should plan an academic program of study in high school with an emphasis on science and math. Liberal arts courses are also important for meeting general college entrance requirements.

Individuals interested in pursuing dentistry as a career should also note the importance of manual dexterity and scientific ability. Skilled, steady hands are necessary, as well as good space and shape judgment and artistic and creative ability. Good vision is required because of the detailed work. Individuals should also possess a love of learning since advances in dental research require dentists to continue their education throughout their careers.

Additional Requirements

After graduation from dental school, dentists are required to pass a state board examination in order to qualify for a license. Those who want to enter a specialized field of dentistry should plan on additional study after dental school ranging from two to four years. About 80% of all dentists practice general dentistry; the remainder practice a dental specialty. The American Dental Association is an excellent resource for information about advanced specialty and general dentistry programs.

Work Environment

Most dentists are in private practice and are free to set their own hours and establish an office and environment suitable to their individual tastes. Private practitioners also have the satisfaction and challenge of running their own business. Other dentists work for clinics, federal government agencies, research programs, foundations, corporations, the Public Health Service, or the military and are subject to conditions set by their employers.

Potential Earnings

Based on nationwide 2000 salary figures from the American Dental Association, the average annual net income of general practitioners in private practice was $150,000, while the average for dental specialists was over $200,000.

Employment Outlook

Because people are more concerned about dental health and can better afford dental care, opportunities for dentists will continue to be strong. The growing population of elderly and middle-aged persons born before the advances in dental health that took place in the 1950s will require increased services in terms of restorative dentistry. In addition, with advances in technologies and treatments, the public's interest in cosmetic dentistry continues to grow at a healthy rate.

The American Dental Association provides a genera fact sheet and career information on dentistry. Visit their website at: