A Dentist’s Career

Dentist Job Description

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A dentist spends his day diagnosing and treating problems that occur in teeth and the surrounding tissues of the mouth. They not only fill cavities, but they also clean teeth, perform extractions and fix broken teeth. They make molds for dentures to replace missing teeth and they educate their patients about good dental hygiene.

Most dentists work in general practice, though some do specialize in surgery, gum and bone diseases, and straightening teeth. Dentists will typically start out working in established dental practices or in general hospitals; however, some do go on to establish their own practices with time.

The Dentist’s Job Outlook

The job market for dentists is strong and growing. In fact, the demand is soon expected to outpace the supply of qualified dentists, leaving a significant dearth of dental care in certain areas of the country. Currently, there are many members of the baby-boom generation who are requiring significant and complicated dental work. In addition, studies are continuing to find strong links between oral health and general heath. This is leading to a growing public demand for preventative and restorative dental care. Finally, cosmetic dental procedures like teeth whitening and straightening are rapidly gaining popularity. As technology advances, allowing for faster and less invasive procedures, this trend is expected to increase significantly.

Due to these contributing factors, employment of dentists is projected to grow by 21 percent by the year 2020. This is a much faster rate than the average for all occupations.

At the moment, dentists are simply hiring more and more dental hygienists and assistants to cover routine work in the practice, freeing them up to handle more complex procedures. New technology is also helping dentists to be more productive and reducing the time needed to treat each patient. In spite of this, the need for dentists continues to outstrip the supply.

A Day in the Life of a Typical Dentist

Most dentists have busy schedules and have to accommodate for the work days of their patients. Thus, some begin work as early as six in the morning or work late into the evenings. On arriving at the office in the morning, the dentist will review his schedule and prepare for the first appointments of the day.

Once the office is open for business, patients will begin trickling in and the dentist’s day begins in earnest. Throughout the course of his day, he will be called upon to tackle a huge range of dental problems.

He might begin with a routine check-up and find that his patient needs a deep dental cleaning. He may handle it himself, or if he works with a dental hygienist, he’ll likely send the patient over to her for the cleaning. His next patient might have a couple cavities, so he’ll drill to remove the decayed material, and then fill the holes with a filling material.

The next patient that comes along might have chipped a tooth while playing ball. The dentist will need to grind the tooth down, make a mold and put in a temporary replacement. Then along comes a patient with gum and tooth decay so extensive that the nerve in one of her teeth has died. The dentist has to spend a good chunk of time on performing a root canal.

He continues to see patients throughout the day, performing cleanings, replacing teeth and doing teeth whitenings. Kids might come in needing their milk teeth extracted, and this will take a bit of time. With each patient, he’ll likely need to do a lot of educating as patients often neglect to care for their teeth properly.

Sometimes a case will come in that is beyond the dentist’s domain and the dentist will need to make a referral. Perhaps, for example, a patient comes in with serious gum disease. In this case, the dentist will refer the patient to a colleague who specializes in periodontal work. In other cases, the dentist will need to send a patient to have dental x-rays and lab tests performed before he can proceed with treatment.

A dentist will typically devote one afternoon each week to handling insurance claims and paperwork. Dental assistants often carry much of the administrative load; however, the dentist is still responsible for making sure all of it is handled and filed correctly.

Most dentists will work between 7-10 hours a day, though when emergencies arise, they may work longer hours. The work hours are generally fairly standard though, which makes dentistry one of the most popular medical fields. The predictable hours enable dentists to enjoy weekends and holidays without being “on call” like many other doctors.

Some Handy Skills

Beyond the technical skills of dentistry, a dentist will need a number of additional qualities if he wants to keep his patients happy and coming back. Good people skills are very important. After all, no one wants a sullen, silent dentist poking around in their mouth with sharp instruments. A dentist should be friendly and offer enough conversation to put the patient at ease. A sense of humor is also a valuable skill – especially when a patient is sitting for a long or painful procedure.

A dentist also needs a large degree of patience. This is especially true when working with children who are often anxious and wiggly – though plenty of adults tend to be anxious and wiggly in the dentist’s chair as well. The dentist can’t get snappy or irritated, and will need to know how to gently keep a patient under control while he works.

Further Opportunities

Dentists typically advance by buying (or buying into) their own private practice. Owning or co-owning a practice gives a dentist a greater range of control and flexibility in his work environment and can also guarantee a higher salary.

Other dentists choose to branch into teaching, research or high-level administration jobs. These fields don’t generally involve working with patients, but they can offer their own unique set of challenges to broaden a dentist’s skill set.