Dentistry is a rewarding—and challenging—career.
You love life, being a dentist—most days. Other days…well, you consider taking a very long vacation.
You didn’t choose dentistry because you’re crazy about dental fillings and crowns, billing questions, and team management. You jumped into the profession for a lot of reasons that sometimes get lost in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of dental practice life.
Wherever you are in your career and whatever kind of day you’ve had, you’re not the only dentist in this spot, that much is clear. And sometimes, a good reminder of that can go a long way. So let’s take a realistic look at the highs and the lows of choosing dentistry as a career.
Pro: Being a dentist you can change lives for the better.
Oral health is an important part of taking care of ourselves. Being a dentist means you play a key role in helping people take good care of their teeth. Your touch and advice help to keep diseases at bay. Plus, you replace lost teeth and treat damaged teeth, restoring smiles and the patient’s confidence to flash that smile.
Furthermore, as you know, dental care isn’t just about healthy teeth and bright smiles. Poor oral health is a risk factor for heart disease, the number one killer in America. You’re saving lives. It may not feel like it sometimes, but your actions create ripples throughout your patients’ lives and the communities in which they live.
Con: You can’t change every life.
The pressure of the ripples you’re creating can feel like a lot of responsibility for one person. It can also be frustrating when you don’t feel like you’re getting through to enough patients about their oral health, making those ripples feel nonexistent and the pond you’re swimming in stagnant. Sure, not everyone is going to commit to a flawless oral health regime, and you will continue to see dental health problems that could have been avoided, but for every challenging case there are a hundred happy smiles that you did make a difference to.
Pro: Dentists can run their own practice and be self-employed.
Approximately 90% of dentists work in a private practice environment. Some of those work as associate dentists, but every dentist has the opportunity to run their own practice. This isn’t something most doctors can do and earn a living.
Being self-employed can be wonderful. You can set your own hours and spend your time doing what you love. Most private practice dentists spend 33 hours per week interacting with patients and full-time dentists work approximately 36 hours per week.
As your own boss, you can run your business as you please and you don’t have to answer to anyone. For some, being a dentist and owning their own practice means practicing dentistry with the specialty focus that brings them the most joy.
Con: Dentists can run their own practice and be self-employed.
Independence and self-determination are key selling points to being your own boss. But self-employment has its downsides. If your practice is busy and you don’t maintain appropriate boundaries, you could find yourself working overtime each week trying to keep up with all your patients. That work-life balance you were looking forward to gets totally upset if you don’t mentor your team members and delegate tasks to them.
If business isn’t going so well, stress and uncertainty may be piling on. You might worry about making ends meet and how you’re going to pay your employees. Furthermore, if something goes wrong, the buck stops with you. You have to shoulder the responsibility when things go awry.
These are all harsh realities of owning your own practice, but the good news is that if you find yourself in this situation, you can make changes to improve your workload, increase your business, and ease your stress.
Pro: Being a dentist, you get to experience the amazing changes constantly happening in dentistry and in dental technology.
Dental technology is moving forward in leaps and bounds. It seems like every day a new technology comes out that makes teeth restorations easier or makes the hygiene appointments smoother, more thorough, and more comfortable for patients.
By choosing to bring technology into your practice that improves and shapes the patient experience, you’re part of this generation of dentists who are shaping the dental industry as a whole. You’re setting the bar and giving patients a new baseline of what to expect.
Con: You have to keep up with the amazing changes constantly happening in dentistry and in dental technology
You’ll have to keep up with continuing education credits and training on new equipment. If you don’t, you’ll get left in the dust. Thankfully, you have the mindset of perpetual learning, otherwise you wouldn’t have picked dentistry.
Pro: Dentists get to work with the best people—their team and patients!
As you can already attest, dental teams are great! It takes a special sort of person to want to deal with people’s mouths all day. As such, dental workers tend to be caring, compassionate individuals that are just plain nice to be around. Furthermore, dental teams tend to be small and people work together for years. Thus, you get to really know your co-workers and become a tight-knit family.
And the patients are pretty awesome too. Once people get comfortable with a dentist, they tend to stick with the same one. Many of your patients might even become friends over the years!
Con: Dentists have to learn how to manage people.
Mentoring and growing leaders on your team is vital to the health, growth, and success of your dental practice. You know it, and you’ve probably seen what happens to a practice when developing leaders isn’t a priority. But not every dentist has the tools or ability to do so.
But don’t get too disheartened. There are tools and dental management groups that can help you grow and grow your team.
Pro: Being a dentist, you get to exercise creativity in your daily work.
Being a dentist, you get to combine art and science to create a smile your patient can be proud of. That’s an amazing pro! Think about the last patient who walked in hiding their smile and left flashing it to everyone.
It’s very satisfying to be able to empower people with a beautiful and functional smile. From simple teeth whitening to dental implants and other tooth replacement options, dentists have an arsenal of techniques they can use to restore their patients’ smiles.
Con: Sometimes you get stuck in a rut of dentistry that doesn’t bring you joy.
If you’re not practicing the type of dentistry that brings you joy, then being a dentist may start to lose its luster.
There are solutions, though, to help you bring in the patients who also understand the value of the type of dentistry that makes your heart sing. Like working on your case presentation skills, changing up your marketing, and working on your internal systems and processes. You might even consider continuing education to expand your skills into specialist areas.
Pro: Dentists have the opportunity to earn a good salary with some work-life balance.
Earning a living wage to support yourself is important, of course. And earning enough to save for retirement while maintaining a healthy work-life balance is something every American hopes to achieve. In dentistry, it is possible.
The median annual wage for general dentists in 2020 was $158,940—nearly four times higher than the median annual US salary of $40,000. Depending on your location and how well you run your practice, you could be making considerably more.
And because most dentists can set their own hours, you can choose to work part time if you like and still earn a good wage. As such, being a dentist is a great career for parents who want to work while raising a family or dentists who want to work fewer hours.
Con: You’re not in it for the money.
Is that really a con? Not hardly.
Wherever you’re at in your dental career, remember what made you fall in love with being a dentist in the first place. Whether it was the opportunity to build relationships with your patients or to combine art and science, take yourself back to the moment when you knew being a dentist was it for you. Hold on to that moment on the difficult days.
And remember, you’re not alone. There are other dentists out there in your shoes. Talk to your colleagues. Build or join a community of support from others who get it. Provide support in return, too.
Good, kind, caring dentists are necessary. We appreciate you being one of them.
To learn more about our popular orthodontics courses for pediatric and general dentists, check out one of the upcoming events below.