Chances are you know what a dentist does. A dentist is a medical professional who helps patients maintain good oral health. In other words, dentists work on teeth and gums. They fill cavities, fix teeth that are broken or otherwise damaged, perform surgery to correct teeth and gums, remove teeth, and get rid of plaque and tooth decay. Like all medical doctors, they have the authority to prescribe medicine and antibiotics. Dentists enjoy high salons, good job security-job growth for dentists is expected to rise in the near future-and comfortable working conditions for the most part. A persistent rumor, for at least the last decade if not longer, is that the rate of depression and suicide in students is higher than for any other profession. This seems to be more of an urban myth than a social reality, however, and the truth is that most dentists enjoy their jobs, their hobbies, their families and their lives in general.
If you want to be a dentist, you have to decide if you want to be a general dentist, or if you want to go to school for a few extra years to specialize in such areas as orthodontics (straightening teeth), periodontics (caring for the gums and the bones of the mouth), oral surgery, pediatric dentistry or one of several other options. Most general dentists actually own their own businesses and hire a staff of hygienists and businesspeople to help them out. To be a solo practitioner, however, you have to have good clerical and administrative skills in addition to strong skills as a dentist. You also have to be able to advertise yourself and your services effectively.
Many dentists work five days a week, forty hours a week, although some work only four or even three and a half days a week. When you're just starting out in your career, however, you should probably expect to work more than forty hours a week until your business and your reputation are firmly established. It's also a good idea to take some time each year to learn about the latest technologies. More and more scholars are beginning to use lasers in such procedures as teeth whitening, for example, and lasers do seem to represent the wave of the future in dentistry. Also, online record keeping and other tools keep changing and improving, and it's best to stay on top of all these new methods of conducting business.
To become a dentist, you'll have to complete four years of undergraduate study to earn a bachelor's degree, and then go to dental school for four years or so. Admission to dental school, as you may imagine, is highly competitive, so work your hardest as an undergraduate to get the best grades and gain the most knowledge as you possibly can. When you finish dental school, you'll have to pass a licensing exam, which involves a written section and a hands-on section in which you have to physically demonstrate your skills.