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Careers in dentistry: What is a general dentist?

Jan. 30, 2024
What does a general dentist do? What are the educational requirements? How much do they make?

Careers in dentistry: Have you ever considered what it would be like, and what it would take, to be a general dentist? Here, Dr. David Rice breaks down what a general dentist does, the pros and cons of being a general dentist, and more.


What does a general dentist do?

Think of general dentists as the primary care providers for dental health. General dentists oversee the total dental health of their patients, even when they call on specialists for help.

As such, general dentists make sure our patients are disease free in terms of oral cancer, gum disease, jaw joint disease, bite-driven issues, and tooth decay. Every day we restore cavities, provide crowns, and do bonding, veneers, root canals, extractions, and dental implants. We also supervise a team of dental hygienists.

What are the educational and licensing requirements to be a general dentist?

Becoming a general dentist involves a rigorous educational journey. Prospective dentists typically complete a bachelor's degree followed by four years of dental school. Dental school education covers anatomy, physiology, pathology, and dental procedures. After graduating, dentists must get a license to practice. Licensing requirements vary by state but generally include passing the National Board Dental Examinations and a clinical examination. Additionally, general dentists are required to take annual continuing education to ensure they consistently stay on top of the latest dental materials, techniques, and technology.

Read also: Careers in dentistry: What is a dental hygienist?

How much do general dentists typically make?

Dental education is very expensive and often lands a young dentist in more than $400,000 of debt. General dentists in the United States generally earn a competitive salary. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for dentists was $172,290 as of May 2022, but this can vary greatly based on experience, location, and the quality of clinical and business continuing education a general dentist seeks.

Whats a typical workday for a general dentist?

The daily routine of a general dentist can be very diverse or very focused, but the prospect of diversity during the workday is a significant reason many dentists choose to practice as general dentists.

Mornings may begin with larger, more complex procedures such as dental implants, root canals, or crowns. As the day progresses, it’s common to do less involved procedures such as fillings, consultations, or emergencies. As the day winds down, many general dentists work on reviewing patient records, coordinating with dental hygienists and other team members, and managing the overall workflow of the dental practice.

What are some pros and cons of being a general dentist?

Like any profession, being a general dentist has its advantages and challenges. On the plus side, general dentistry offers the opportunity to make a meaningful impact on people's lives by improving their oral health. The profession also provides a stable income and the potential for owning your own business. However, the challenges include the physical demands of the job, long hours, and the stress associated with managing patient expectations and sometimes delivering unfavorable news about oral health.

For me, being a general dentist is incredibly rewarding. I get to be a part of the positive transformation in my patients' lives as their smiles and health improve. I also get to work with a team of amazing people I really care for and with incredible technology that fuels my passion.

On the flip side, can it be stressful? Of course. All professions can be. Despite the ups and downs, the satisfaction of knowing I've made a difference in the lives of my patients and team makes it all worth while.

General dentists lead the oral health team. Our journey involves extensive education, licensing requirements, and a commitment to lifelong learning. Financially, there are more lucrative careers in dentistry, but we make a good living. All in all, if you’re looking for an incredibly rewarding career and you’re willing to put in the work, I highly recommend general dentistry.