Ladies, it's all about your pearly whites. Women have special oral health needs, according to the Academy of General Dentistry. It's a good thing that women like you are considering the profession to help meet women's needs -- in the 2010-2011 year, almost 46 percent of dental students were female, and 45 percent of the graduating class of 2010 were female. Instead of general dentistry, you could also choose a dental specialty such as periodontics.
All dentists are taught the basics about the health and care of teeth, gums and supporting bone structures. Although dental school requirements vary, most require a bachelor's degree. A major such as biology may be advantageous, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Typical coursework includes anatomy, the study of oral health and disease, radiology and local anesthesia. General dentists remove decay, fill dental cavities, remove or repair broken teeth, apply dental sealants, use local anesthetics and teach patients about proper oral care. They may treat infections with antibiotics or place crowns and caps over broken teeth.
Periodontists are general dentists who receive extra training and have a special focus on the gums and the bone that supports the teeth. Periodontists specialize in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of periodontal disease, which includes gum inflammation and gum infections. They also perform procedures such as laser therapy for infected gums, scaling and root planing -- cleaning the infected surface of the tooth's root -- and remove damaged gum tissue. In addition to surgical dentistry, periodontists perform cosmetic periodontal procedures such as plastic surgery of the gums.
A dentist or periodontist might be a DDS -- doctor of dental surgery -- or a DMD -- doctor of dental medicine. Titles are the prerogative of each dental school. Dental students perform clinical procedures under the supervision of an experienced dentist. Both general dentists and periodontists complete all aspects of general dental training. General dentists and periodontists perform some of the same tasks, such as placing dental implants. Demand for all types of dentists is expected to grow 21 percent between 2010 and 2020, which is faster than average, according to the BLS.
Periodontists spend an extra three years in specialty training after they complete dental school, according to the American Academy of Periodontology, or AAP. Periodontists perform more extensive surgical procedures and are more likely to perform procedures other than routine dental care. General dentists earned $163,240 in 2010 according to the BLS. The BLS does not track periodontists separately but groups them with other dental specialties such as endodontists, dental public health specialists and oral pathologists. Dental specialists in this group earned an average annual salary of $164,780 in 2012.
Untreated periodontal disease can affect your overall health and is now considered one of the chronic diseases related to aging, according to the AAP. Although a general dentist can manage mild peritoneal disease, complex or severe cases should be managed by a periodontist. If you lean toward surgical procedures and thrive on managing more complex medical problems, peridontistry could provide you with the extra challenges you prefer. If your preference is for more routine dental care, you'll probably be happier as a general dentist.
2016 Salary Information for Dentists
Dentists earned a median annual salary of $158,390 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, dentists earned a 25th percentile salary of $110,030, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $201,830, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 153,500 people were employed in the U.S. as dentists.
- American Dental Association: Frequently Asked Questions
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Dentists
- American Academy of Periodontology: What is a Periodontist?
- American Academy of Periodontology: Periodontal Treatments and Procedures
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 29-1021 Dentists, General
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 29-1029 Dentists, All Other Specialists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Dentists
- Career Trend: Dentists
- Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images