How to Be a Dentist

Dentistry is one of the best careers out there. According to the United States Department of Labor, a dentist can easily make over $140,000 a year. The benefits don’t end with money, however. Dental problems can seriously degrade quality of life and, in severe cases, even cause life-threatening infections. Becoming a dentist is one of the best career choices for those who want to make a comfortable living while making a positive difference in the world. For those considering dental training, there are two important factors: education and personal traits.

Dental Education

The process of becoming a dentist begins in high school. According to the Department of Labor, aspiring dentists need to have a strong foundation in science, especially the life sciences. High school students considering a career in dentistry are well-served to take as many chemistry and biology classes as possible. If the student’s school offers Advanced Placement science classes, they are even more helpful for any young person who wants a career in medicine, dentistry included.

The next step is college. Almost all schools that train actual dentists (as opposed to dental hygienists or dental assistants) are graduate schools that require a four-year college degree. Though most schools don’t require a specific major as a prerequisite for admission, it’s a very good idea to focus on sciences. Biology and organic chemistry are especially helpful majors, as many aspects of dentistry require a solid understanding of life science.

The final educational step in the process of becoming a dentist is dental school. Dental schools, for those pursuing D.D.S (Doctor of Dental Surgery, the standard dentist title) are medical schools with an emphasis on the structures and function of the human mouth. Aspiring dentists should expect a rigorous four-year course of study as well as significant student loan expenses, and should plan accordingly. Considering the possible earnings, however, dental school is worth the investment.

Personal Traits

Successful dentists usually possess certain key personality traits. That’s because a dentist has to do more than just fix teeth. A dentist, especially one who has his or her own practice, is also the CEO of a small company. This requires attention to detail, patience, good communication skills, and willingness to “play by the rules.” Each of these traits is equally important, since a good dentist does far more than clean and fix teeth.

Attention to detail is one of the most important traits for anyone considering becoming a dentist to posses. A successful dental practice needs to track a wide array of information, from patient contact information to staff schedules to the steps of highly detailed procedures such as root canals and the creation of crowns. A dentist also has to make sure that all tools are cleaned, sanitized, and stored correctly.

Lack of attention to detail can cause disaster for a dental practice. The Internet is rife with stories about patients who had the wrong procedure performed on them because someone messed up the paperwork. Unhygienic tools can spread disease. In the information age, where websites designed specifically to rate businesses are only a click away, something as simple as forgetting the name of a repeat patient can damage the clinic’s reputation.

Another crucial personalty trait those working on becoming a dentist must possess is patience. Most of a dentist’s clients will require at least a little bit of patience, since going to get one’s teeth worked on isn’t exactly the highlight of most people’s day. Some, however, will require an extra measure of patience. Many people suffer from needle phobia, or even fear of dentists in general. Such individuals will often require taking it slow. They may also need detailed explanations of the procedure to be done and the steps involved. A dentist also has to have good communication skills in order to ensure a good relationships with both patients and ancillary staff.

Successful completion of dental treatment, in many cases, relies on patient compliance. Dental patients must obey directives such as not eating for a certain amount of time after treatment and keep any follow-up appointments. In order to motivate them to do that, dentists have to be able to clearly explain the reasons behind the instructions. Good communication skills are equally important when the dentist works with his or her staff. Much of the work done in a dental office is done by dental hygienists, while front office staff often handles crucial paperwork and scheduling. The dentist needs to be able to clearly communicate both office policies and day-to-day instructions in an authoritative but not authoritarian manner. Poor communication can hurt a practice; patients who call with a question but don’t get a call back will leave, as will staff members who are continually frustrated by the lack of clear, consistent direction.

Finally, a dentist must posses a tractable attitude.While a certain amount of innovation is good and often necessary (especially in a competitive market), a rebel spirit is out of place in dentistry. Strict governments laws, including HIPAA (federal patient privacy laws) and the Americans with Disabilities Act govern the provision of medical services. A dentist needs to deeply believe that such rules exist for a reason, and make sure they are followed to the letter. Failure to do so can lead to lawsuits that can strip a dentist of his or her license and effectively destroy the dentist’s livelihood.