Dentistry Named Fourth Best Job By US News & World Report

Richard Gawel


Dentists are the envy of all almost other professionals, according to the 2019 US News & World Report of the 100 Best Jobs, which ranked dentists fourth after software developers, statisticians, and physician assistants. But oral healthcare is still the place to be overall, with orthodontists coming in tied at fifth, prosthodontists and oral and maxillofacial surgeons tied at ninth, and dental hygienists ranked thirtieth. 

US News & World Report identified its top professions by analyzing data on the jobs that had the largest projected number of openings through 2026, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The news agency then ranked these choices based on a variety of criteria, including median salary, employment rate, 10-year growth, future job prospects, stress level, and work-life balance. 

The Salaries and Outlook 

After this number crunching, though, dentistry has taken a hit since last year’s results, when it was the second best job in the country and the number one healthcare profession. Part of this drop is attributable to its median salary, which was $153,900 in 2016 but $151,440 in this year’s tally. But the report also notes that the top 25% make $208,000 and higher, which is comparable to the top of last year’s curve. 

Dentists in Peabody, Massachusetts, see the best salaries at $290,000. They were tops on last year’s list too, when they made $283,000. Practitioners in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Sebring, Florida, Bloomington, Indiana, and Reno, Nevada, rounded out the five best paying cities. Delaware was the top state again at $257,290, a which is a big bump from last year’s $236,130 pay, followed by North Dakota, Alaska, North Carolina, and New Hampshire. 

But dentistry isn’t just about today’s pay, which US News & World Report gave a 9.7 on a 10 scale. The BLS also predicts 19.4% employment growth 2016 and 2026 with approximately 25,700 jobs opening up, which sounds good, though US News & World Report only gave these prospects a 6 out of 10. Dentists also currently enjoy a 0.9% unemployment rate, however, giving the profession 10 out of 10 in terms of job market.

Then there are the intangibles, such as stress, which the report gave a 6 out of 10 due to the work environment and complexities of the job’s responsibilities. Upward mobility also got a 6 out of 10 due to its opportunities for advancement and salary. Work-life balance fared the best  with an 8 out of 10 score, attributable to its flexible scheduling. Most dentists work full time, but evenings and weekends often are options, especially if you’re the one deciding the hours.

Dentists also have a variety of opportunities for practicing, with different average salaries as well. Dentists who work at residential facilities dealing with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental health, and substance abuse have the highest average at $185,610. Regular dental offices provide a $176,630 average. State government dentists have a $167,200 average, followed by employment services at $160,790 and other health practitioner offices at $157,230.

What Dentists Say About the Profession

Many dentists agree with the US News & World Report assessment of the benefits of the profession, particularly when it comes to dentistry’s remuneration, lifestyle, and variety.

“There are three contributing factors that explain why dentistry is such an attractive profession: salary, flexibility, and need. Everyone wants to please their mother and become a doctor. Dentistry is one way to accomplish that. The pay is good, and the job offers that degree of scheduling flexibility that young professionals look for these days,” said Adam S. Harwood, DMD, an endodontist based in New York City. 

“Probably most importantly, there’s a current need for oral health professionals, and the US Department of Labor doesn’t see that demand abating anytime soon. This adds up to a dependable, rewarding, and lucrative career choice, especially if you enjoy making people look and feel their best,” said Harwood, who also is a specialist member of the American Association of Endodontists.

“As a woman in dentistry, I think that dentistry is so attractive because there is so much variability in what you can do with your degree. You can practice, you can be a business owner, you can teach, you can decrease stress and work for someone else, you can do a little of everything. Really, the sky’s the limit,” said Golda Erdfarb, DDS, associate professor of dental medicine and course director of Dental Anatomy and Occlusion and Operative Dentistry at the Touro College of Dental Medicine

“Dentistry is really unique in that it is driven by a strong blend of entrepreneurism, science, art, and social tending. Add to the mix your own ability to create your work schedule, the type of practice you may want to create, and a growing need to offer dentistry in so many places, it certainly offers opportunity,” said Lori Trost, DMD, who maintains a private practice in the Greater St. Louis area.  

Brien Harvey, DDS, MS, a practicing periodontist in Tucson and chair of the board of Delta Dental of Arizona, agrees that dentistry offers financial rewards, flexible scheduling, and a broad range of opportunities. But he also sees the value in serving patients and providing care and thinks the profession should be ranked even higher than fourth.

“First, always, is having the opportunity to serve patients in a fashion that allows them to achieve their desires in terms of oral health, comfortable chewing function, and pleasing aesthetics. Satisfying patients’ needs and wants is a very satisfying endeavor,” Harvey said, as others noted the important role that dentists play in the community. 

“As a profession, we must make sure our messaging to patients makes them aware of the medical-dental wellness connections, the pitfalls of rogue over-the-counter dental products, and the need to establish our knowledge as dental experts versus what is on the internet,” Trost said. 

“Dentists are dedicated, caring health professionals making a positive difference in the lives of patients across the country,” said Jeffrey M. Cole, DDS, MBA, president of the ADA. “I’m proud that dentistry has again been named a top profession by US News.” 

Innovation will be at the center of the dentist-patient relationship, too.

“With the emerging technologies of today, the future of dentistry is extremely optimistic. Between new dentifrices, digital dentistry, social media, and the popularity of implants and aligners, the field of dentistry and having a healthy smile is beginning to be attainable for all socioeconomic groups,” said Erdfarb. “Being able to provide affordable healthcare to so many in our own communities is in our reach.”

“Our office is currently working with a 3-D imaging device that not only helps us when we need to work on a patient, but it also allows us to show the patient exactly what the treatment encompasses, using a rotatable 3-D image that’s easy to understand,” Harwood said. “So that’s what’s coming in dentistry, high-tech equipment and even robotics, which will make many oral procedures safe, faster, less costly, more precise, and pain free.”

“Digital dentistry has arrived and will only continue to be incorporated in more procedures. The manner in which digital dentistry streamlines, its precision, and predictability make it a win-win for the dentist and patient. The challenge is developing a game plan of where to start, what continuing education classes to take, and how to incorporate it successfully in the practice. With that said, finances are also a huge consideration,” said Trost.

And finally, dentistry is no longer the realm of single practitioners. Corporate dentistry is having a profound effect on the profession, and dentists are aware of how it will continue to influence the way dentists practice.

“The most notable trend I see continuing to affect and change the nature of the dental profession is the increasing proportion of dentists working within large corporate practice settings. There seems to be a link between the student debt load of graduating dentists and the increasing market share of large corporate offices, as the corporate offices generally offer higher starting salaries than does a solo practitioner looking for an associate,” said Harvey.

“Another challenge is the business of dentistry and how we can remain true to our own vision. The average dentist must really grow their business acumen to stay ahead today, and as DSOs continue to grow, every clinician must discover where they fit within their community or locale,” said Trost. “The key is to figure out ‘your fit’ and then leverage that knowledge in your marketing and professional presence.”

“As president of the American Dental Association, which represents 163,000 dentist members, we’re working on multiple fronts on behalf of our members to help them succeed and address any challenges they may face, particularly those that might interfere in the doctor-patient relationship,” said Cole. 

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