Is Dental School Worth It? U.S. News recently published their rankings of the top 100 jobs in 2017, boldly claiming that dentistry is America’s number one job. Their report rates occupations on a list of seven different factors, including the average salary for dentists, but none addresses the cost of dental education.
The dental school dean may have given you a bill of goods for new dentists.
Dentistry Profession Overview
A dentist is a health care professional with the name of Dr, Dental Surgery Doctor (DDS) or Dental Medicine Doctor (DMD)–all degrees mean the same thing and are received the same education. It is up to the dental school to determine the degree to be awarded at the university.
A new dentist has several choices to choose from after dental school. They will continue their education and pursue a post-doctoral or advanced training program in general dentistry or one of the nine dental specialties.
Dental specialties include: Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, Oral & Maxillofacial Radiology, Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology, Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics, Endodontics, Periodontics, Prosthodontics, Pediatric Dentistry, and Dental Public Health.
These programs and residencies range from an additional 1-6 years of advanced training following dental school.
If a dentist does not want to do any advanced training, they may start working as a general dentist in a variety of different fields. Such fields include: academics, science, military, public health, dentistry of businesses, private practice, group practice, international health care, or hospital care.
There are plenty of choices to choose from and you can choose your own dental course and what kind of patients or environment you want to treat and operate in.
Dentistry is also a great and very rewarding profession. Nonetheless, like any career choice, it is important to understand the profession and what it entails in order to ensure that you are committed to it and ultimately dedicated to your patients as you are responsible for their treatment and well-being.
It is a great responsibility to have, and although it can sometimes be incredibly burdensome, providing quality treatment that can dramatically change lives for the better is very gratifying and satisfying.
Pros Of Being A Dentist
1. Respected Profession
Dentistry is a highly respected profession. A dentist is a community figure that is highly respected and trusted by the community in which he/she works. Dental patients rely on and trust their dentist to provide them with the best possible healthcare.
2. Ability to Help People
Dentistry is a discipline that is geared towards service. You’re going to spend all your time supporting others who are extremely rewarding to you as a dentist.
Through restoring their smile, eyes, self-confidence, self-image, and ability to eat and speak properly, you will make significant changes in the lives of people. As a dentist, you are instantly gratified when you can relieve the pain from toothache or put a beautiful crown which improves the patient’s teeth’s beauty and function.
3. Job Stability
Dentistry is one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, an extremely stable occupation. Oral healthcare is always important and always in demand, but as the baby boomer age of the retirement of dentists increases the need for cosmetic dentistry and as people live longer, the need for dentists will only increase in the future, leading to more employment and a very stable career.
Dentistry provides a healthy income with a median salary of $146,340 in 2013 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As a dentist you are able to help dictate how much you make by how much you work and your business model.
If you own your own private practice then you can work as much or as little as you’d like and run your practice however you’d like which will influence how much income you make.
5. Balanced Lifestyle
A career in dentistry can provide you with a balanced lifestyle between your work, family, and social life. If you own your own practice then you can choose how much you work in a week. Most dentists work full-time, but some will work only 3 days a week or some will work more than full-time by working evenings and even weekends.
Dentistry allows you to be your own boss if you choose to do so by owning your own practice. You can determine how you want your career in dentistry to be. You have much more freedom and can essentially make all the decisions with very little managed care in dentistry which is not common in the other healthcare professions.
Cons Of Being A Dentist
In order to become a dentist, you will spend at least 7-8 years in school following high school. It is not a requirement at every dental school to have a Bachelor’s degree to enter dental school, but it is highly recommended and nowadays schools do not typically accept students without one.
So you will spend your first 4 years of study at a university earning a Bachelor’s degree in whatever major you choose.
You must spend at least 7-8 years in high school to become a dentist. Holding a Bachelor’s degree to attend dental school is not a prerequisite at any dental school, but it is highly recommended and nowadays schools usually do not accept students without one but is it worth it?
Because you’re going to spend your first 4 years studying at a college in whatever major you choose to earn a Bachelor’s degree.
Upon graduating from a college, upon taking the DAT, interviewing and getting accepted, you will be enrolled in a dental school. Dental school is a four-year PhD course (three years if you go to Pacific University). It is a system that is very stressful and demanding.
Upon graduation, you’ll receive your DDS or DMD degree, depending upon which degree your school awards.
You’re going to be a dentist after dental school. You have the opportunity to go on to postgraduate programs like a1-year General Practice Residency or Advanced Education in General Dentistry programs to gain more experience and develop your clinical skills as a general dentist.
You can also choose to specialize in one of the fields of dentistry in order to complete such post-graduate programs from an additional 2-6 years of schooling, depending on the specialization.
Besides spending at least 7-8 years of your life in school in order to become a dentist you will spend many hours doing demanding and exhausting work on your patients throughout your career. Most dentists work full-time and some will even work evening and weekends.
Nobody understands better than a dentist what a lot of debt is. Hearing people going through undergraduate studies or other graduate programs talk about their loans is almost comical, because dental school is one of the most costly graduate programs, if not the most.
An average dental student will graduate from dental school with approximately $250,000 in debt. When you graduate from them, the most expensive dental schools will put you in debt at about $500,000.
Debt is a major stress factor in dental practice. There are also many other considerations, such as handling patients and staff, running a business, coping with managed care, competing with other dentists, and not getting many of your own benefits, such as personal time off, due to the high cost of operating a practice.
There are many factors that relate to the difficulty of being a dentist when it comes to treating patients. In a small confined space, you spend the whole day working and concentrating.
You’re doing a very boring and precise job. Many patients have little ability to open their eyes, some have car hoods in tongues, others salivate or vomit like fire hoses, others suffer in pain at the sound of a drill, some gag at the sight of a mouth mirror, some pass out, some are going to throw up at you.
You have to keep up with your schedule, which is also very specific, and one patient who shows up late or irregular in the course of treatment can cause serious delays and kinks in your schedule and a lot of needless pressure.
There are many factors in a dentist’s life that cause stress. You need to be able to cope with the high stress levels and handle the stress you face outside of dentistry.
5. Physically Demanding
Dentistry is very demanding physically, although a lot of people might not think so. Precise and repetitive research with your hands in a small area and keeping your eyes on a small area by loupes for long periods of time are reasons why dentistry is physically demanding. On your back, your hands and shoulders are strong.
If you have bad ergonomics in dentistry, in a short amount of time you can experience and see the impact. Carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic back problems, and dentists are rife with hypertension. Probably at some point in your career you will have to find a good chiropractor.
6. Costs of a Dental Practice
Just like the expenses of dental school are extremely expensive, maintaining a dental practice is also very expensive. Dentists do have a good income and have stable careers, but they aren’t making as much as patients or people often perceive.
Most of the money that comes in never ends in the dentist’s pockets. Money goes to pay for materials, salaries for employees, taxes, repairs, protection for insurance, CE courses, new equipment, etc. Dental machinery is extremely expensive; that the dentist used to make your crown cost more than $100,000 in a house-milling machine.
It can be very expensive to buy any instrument, piece of equipment, and materials. Companies are constantly releasing new dental products, instruments and supplies, and you always feel the pressure to buy the latest and biggest product. Staying ahead and sustaining a new and high-quality practice is difficult.
The dental school admission rivalry is rising by the year. Getting into dental school is challenging and very competitive, as more and more students apply each year. Every year, more and more students want to enter dentistry as it gives them more freedom and flexibility to do what they want for their dental career.
You have to compete with fellow dentists for patients once you’re out of dental school. Everybody wants to live in urban areas so that almost every major metropolitan region is far beyond their optimum ratio of dentists to residents.
You will need to make sure that a sufficient amount of money is dedicated for advertising to keep up a practice that is successful.
8. Managed Care
Dentistry is one of the only healthcare areas that has not been adversely affected by managed care. Managed care means when health care is managed by organizations such as the government or an insurance company.
Just as Obamacare and insurance companies have destroyed the healthcare system, in the not-so-distant future this could happen with dentistry.
There are still quite a few rights to run your own practice as of now, but insurance firms still control a lot of the services that your clients will receive and government or insurance providers may take a more effective role in regulating dental care in the future as they do with medical care.
You might not be able to own your own practice anymore if that happens. It leaves one with a question, is the whole dental school worth the stress?
9. Vulnerability to Infectious Diseases
As a dentist you are susceptible to illnesses and infectious diseases every day as you treat patients. Patients will show up with a cold or a contagious illness and you’ll be prone to getting it as well. Dentists also work with many sharp instruments such as: needles, scalpel blades, burs, explorers or scalers to name a few.
If you accidentally have a needlestick or poke yourself with a sharp instrument then there is always the risk of contracting a blood borne disease such as HIV or Hepatitis C if the patient is a carrier.
You become at risk for these life threatening diseases if this happens. The risk of actually contracting the disease is very low, but it is still possible and has happened so its a risk that a dentist faces.
10. Emotionally Demanding
In addition to being physically demanding, dentistry is also emotionally demanding. Generally patients are not happy, nervous, or showing distress when undergoing dental treatment.
People hate waiting and if a patient who showed up late throws off your schedule, the rest of your patients will take it on you. No one wants to be in pain and you will sometimes be rude and disrespectful. Many will be offended by missing medication or when something goes wrong.
There is no guaranteed ideal healthcare treatment, there are plenty of factors beyond a dentist’s command, yet the dentist must pay the price emotionally and financially at times when something goes wrong. All of these things create a significant emotional demand on you as the provider.
11. Business Management
It’s hard for anyone to run a business, particularly for a dentist. Imagine spending 4 years at your university focused on a major science and then 4 years of dental school focused on dentistry and then you graduate and are expected to know how to run a dental practice without any knowledge of how to run a business.
Dental school is going to spend about 1/50 of your time talking about practice management in dental school. You’re not going to get anything out of it, and it’s up to you to sort it out when you’re on your own.
It is difficult to do the business side of the practice, but also do all the dental work as well. A dentist wears a lot of hats: he is a business owner, an entrepreneur, and the main employee providing the dental care.
You need to handle the employees as well. It is challenging, exhausting and demanding to know when to hire and fire employees, how to keep them financially happy, provide them with benefits, and deal with attitudes.
When trying to keep everybody happy and successful, it can be very difficult to deal with all different types of people and personalities. As a dentist, you will need to be able to balance multiple roles.
12. Lack of Benefits
Taking a long break when working as a dentist is not very practical, because you still have to pay for a practice’s costs even if you’re not there.
There are regular expenses to be charged if the practice is even open or not, and taking time off not only prevents you from making money, but it also costs you money and makes your holiday much more expensive. When practicing, most dentists can’t take more than two weeks off in a row, which can be extremely expensive.
You are not receiving designated employer benefits. The only benefits you get are the benefits that you give yourself. If you don’t invest and save wisely over the years, you could end up working much longer than you’d want just to have something to retire on.
Is Dental School Worth It?
Before you decide or decide not to be a dentist, here are a few financial factors to consider:
- Return on investment (ROI). Before you invest in most anything, you should consider your return on investment. A ROI is the gain from the investment minus the cost of the investment divided by the cost of investment.
- Salary. There are plenty of jobs that can earn you a salary of $150k that don’t require +$200k of student loan debt.
- Taxes. We underestimated taxes before we started working. We now totally understand why republicans are whining all the time about them.
- Student loan debt burden. Take it from us– paying off half a million dollars in student loan debt really sucks. If you don’t get accepted into an inexpensive public school, it might be worth considering a different career path.
- The cost of owning a dental practice if you are interested in ownership (and the benefits of ownership, such as increased salary and some tax benefits)
- Scholarships and or military repayment. If you can get dental school paid for or partially paid for, that should weigh in to your decision and it’s worth it
NON FINANCIAL FACTORS
- Work life balance. One of the biggest benefits of being a dentist is the pleasant work hours. In many offices, dentists enjoy flexible schedules, averaging between 3-5 days of work per week and usually working less than eight hours per shift.
- Not having to go through residency. Immediately after graduation (and passing boards!) you can start earning six figures and doing real dentistry.
- Being called “doctor” is cool.
- Helping people/being in a service related industry
- Job satisfaction– do you actually want to be a dentist? Will you be OK with being in people’s mouths everyday? Can you listen to people complain? Are you good at solving the problem? Do you want to make people feel better in general? Is dental school really worth It?
You may or may not have the best dental school for you. You might want to ask, Is Dental School Worth It? The important thing is that the above factors, particularly the financial factors, are carefully weighed.
Investing so much time and money in something you end up not loving would be a shame. If your vision is dentistry, pursue it and watch it pay off financially.