Things are looking up for dentists, as US News & World Report named dentistry the second best profession behind software developers in its latest rankings. Last year, dentistry came in fourth place.
Oral healthcare also is a good place to be overall. Orthodontists were fourth on the list, oral and maxillofacial surgeons took ninth place, dental hygienists were twenty-fourth, prosthodontists were fifty-sixth, and dental assistants were sixty-sixth.
US News & World Reportstarted its list with the jobs that have the largest projected number and percentage of openings between 2018 and 2028 as determined by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It then ranked these jobs based on a variety of criteria including median salary, employment rate, 10-year growth, future job prospects, stress level, and work-life balance.
Paychecks and the Intangibles
With 10,400 expected openings and 7.6% employment growth, it’s no wonder dentistry took second place. Dentists also saw a median salary of $151,850, which is a slight improvement over last year’s $151,440 median but still lagging behind 2016’s $153,900 median.
Dentists in Amarillo, Texas, make the most money at $279,580, followed by Longview, Texas, at $275,530; Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, at $268,920; Reno, Nevada, at $267,410; and Sebring, Florida, at $259,660.
Meanwhile, dentists in Delaware make the highest mean salary at $264,440, followed by Alaska at $259,350, Rhode Island at $254,190, Minnesota at $227,280, and New Hampshire at $226,300.
Dentists work in a variety of environments, with the highest average salaries going to those who work in residential intellectual and developmental disability, mental health, and substance abuse facilities making $192,680.
Dentists who work in dental offices make an average of $178,350, followed by those in state government at $174,070, in the offices of other health practitioners at $172,670, and in outpatient care centers at $160,410.
But being a dentist isn’t all about the money. US News & World Reportfound that dentistry offered average upward mobility and stress levels, with above average flexibility in working schedules and work-life balance.
Meanwhile, dentists who put in the time to achieve specialty certification often see a return on that investment with higher salaries. Orthodontists and oral and maxillofacial surgeons both saw a median of $208,000, while prosthodontists saw a median of $176,540.
The BLS expects 7.3% employment growth for orthodontists, with 500 new jobs opening up. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons will see 7.4% growth and 400 new jobs. And, prosthodontists will experience 7.3% growth with no jobs lost.
When it comes to quality of life, orthodontists see average upward mobility, below average stress, and above average flexibility. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons and prosthodontists alike benefit from average upward mobility but are hurt by above average stress and below average flexibility.
What Dentists Say
While the numbers look good on paper, dentists in the real world have a mixed view of the state of dentistry and its outlook for the future.
“I believe the ranking is accurate as far as dentistry being a very desirable job. It is fairly generic, however, and doesn’t do enough to discuss everything that goes into a full day of work on the job,” said Tyler Williams, DDS, who practices in Murray, Utah.
“While income can be great, it’s not as glamorous as it looks off the cuff when you factor in a huge, after-tax debt payment monthly on student loans,” said Williams.
“The biggest benefit of a career in dentistry is how fast the days fly by. Never before had I worked in a profession where it was so busy all day long until I began practicing nearly 10 years ago,” said Williams.
“Dentistry is very invigorating. We get to meet new people and renew existing relationships with patients and team members all day long. Plus, we can really make a difference in the lives of others,” Williams said.
Williams further noted the many questions that dentists ask themselves as they feel pulled in different directions, such as:
- Do I pay off my large student loans or invest?
- Do I go into private practice, the military, or a residency?
- Do I take insurance in my practice or stay fee for service?
- How do I balance my work and my life when I want to get out of debt as quickly as possible but don’t want to burn out?
- Do I practice solo or add a partner?
- Should I work for a corporate practice, the government, or a private practice?
- How do I price my office fees?
- How can I train my team while focusing on caring for my patients?
Meanwhile, larger macroeconomic factors continue to play a significant role in dental careers.
“We have a host of entities that desire to expand the number of dentists to serve their own isolated interests. Their goal is to promote the profession of dentistry as a career choice, from which they’ll stand to profit,” said Michael W. Davis, DDS, who practices in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Elements within the dental service organization (DSO) industry have a very challenging time with associate doctor employment retention. They paint an extremely rosy picture, which is usually a myth. They depend on a continual stream of warm bodies—new doctor employees,” Davis said.
“Organized dentistry is in the fight of its life for membership. Too many older dentists simply can’t see the point, while younger dentists lack the funds for dues,” Davis added. “In order to drum up membership, some in organized dentistry exaggerate the wonderful career had by all in the dental profession.”
“The dental education-industrial complex generates a tremendous largess from student tuition. In fact, the current average debt for a recently graduating dental student is $300,000. The labor market is extremely tight for these recent grads, except in the disturbingly problematic Medicaid sector,” said Davis.
“All the while, programs are expanding class size, and new schools are opening. Too many dental program deans and administrators are all too happy to give a young person a false dream, as well as the media,” said Davis.
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