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Dentistry Career

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Not so many years ago the dentist was considered of rather minor importance as compared with the medical man. People did not go to him unless it was necessary to have a tooth extracted or an exceedingly evident cavity filled. But within recent years dentistry has grown continually in importance, and has become a profession of increasing dignity. The close connection existing between the work of the physician and that of the dentist is at last coming to be understood by everyone. People know that the dentist can do as much in his way to help them preserve their health or cure their ills as can the doctor. They know that if they take proper care of their teeth they may avoid many ills, and they realize that only periodic visits to the dentist will enable them to keep their teeth in a truly healthy condition. So the dentist renders a great service to mankind not only by the actual operations which he performs, but also by the large contributions he makes to the education of the public along the lines of proper preservation and care of the teeth.

The dentist is a sort of combination of the professional man and mechanic. He must have scientific knowledge and training, and also a considerable amount of mechanical skill. His work consists of examination of the mouth and teeth, and then mechanical work or surgical operation to remedy whatever defects he has discovered. Usually both surgical and mechanical work are necessary to complete the operation. Of course, not every dentist performs all the various kinds of work involved in his profession. There are men who specialize in oral surgery, others who confine themselves to the extraction of teeth and still others who specialize in the treatment of mouth diseases. Numerous dentists, however, practice "regular" dentistry, consisting of extraction, filling, cleaning, replacing and general care of the teeth.

The natural qualifications of which the dentist should be possessed are in many ways similar to those of the doctor of medicine. A pleasing and confidence-inspiring personality is essential. Now, especially, when the seriousness and the importance of the dentist's work are gaining added appreciation, it becomes increasingly evident that a good personality is an asset. Under the heading of personality may be placed one of the most important qualifications of the dental practitioner. The most thoroughgoing neatness and cleanliness are absolutely essential if he wishes to gain and retain the confidence of his patients. The man who is not himself immaculate, and whose office and instruments are not in a state of antiseptic cleanliness, can expect people to have as little confidence in him as they would in a doctor similarly deficient.

The prospective dentist should be of a studious nature, for in the study and later practice of his profession he will find it advisable to master much material of a kind which, even a few years ago, it was not considered necessary for the dentist to study. A larger amount of medical knowledge is becoming steadily more important for the dentist. The effects of the condition of the teeth upon the general health of the body, and the close interrelation between the work done nowadays by doctor and dentist, require, on the part of the latter, an increasingly broad knowledge of medical principles. Even after the dentist has established his own practice, it will be necessary for him still to continue studying—for new developments in the science of dentistry are not uncommon, and he must keep up with all of them.

The dentist must also be the type of man who can work well with his hands. Manual skill is an absolute requisite in whatever field of dentistry he may specialize. Examination, extraction and filling of teeth all require it, as do simple or more complicated oral operations.

The work of the dentist requires very definite preparation. In many cases not more than a high school education is required of students who are about to enter a dental school. But there is a growing tendency on the part of the best schools to demand that entering students shall have completed at least two years of college work. If dentistry is to be ranked on an equal plane with the other professions, it would seem that as broad an education as possible, in addition to dental training, will be a decided advantage. With the courses in dentistry, it is now quite common to combine several courses in the principles of medicine, for reasons which have already been mentioned. Those men who wish to become specialists in oral surgery, the treatment of mouth diseases or other similar branches must first have a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the general field of dentistry. Once this has been attained, they can pursue additional studies in their chosen field of specialization.

The cost of a dental education may vary from about $300 to over $3,000, depending on the school selected and the length of the course taken. Definite information as to courses offered by the various schools may be obtained from them upon application. Dentists are required to pass examinations given by the State Board of Examiners before they are licensed to practice their profession.

When the young dentist has finished his studies and obtained his license, he faces the same problem as does the physician in similar circumstances. The problem is—How shall he set to work to build up a practice? The equipment of a dental office is a rather expensive matter-the furnishings and instruments which are necessary costing usually several thousand dollars. Many young men cannot, at the beginning of their careers, afford such an outlay, so they frequently enter the employ of another dentist as his assistant. In such a position, the young dentist may earn from $40 to $50 a week, and be gaining very valuable experience. When he has saved up sufficient money for the proper equipment of an office, he can practice his profession independently. As a general practitioner, he may, during the first few years of his practice, find that his income is not very large, but after four or five years he will probably be making anywhere between $5,000 to $10,000 a year.

The dentist's income depends on several factors. First and foremost comes the quality of his work; but his personality, his business sense and the neighborhood in which he pursues his practice will have much to do with it. A specialist along one line may earn from $10,000 a year upward, for people are willing to pay well for sound dental advice and treatment.

Besides the doctors of dentistry above mentioned, there is the man known as the "mechanical dentist." He is not really a dentist at all, for he is not in actual contact with patients, but a skilled mechanic who makes in his laboratory the artificial materials (such as crowns, bridges and plates) needed by the dental practitioner. The dental radiographer, who takes and develops x-ray pictures of the mouth and teeth, is also an important aid of the doctor of dentistry.

The mechanical dentist need not be of so studious a nature as the doctor of dentistry, for his work requires chiefly manual skill Of course, he should be intelligent, but the matters he will have to master will not require a long period of study. He, too, should be a neat, careful and accurate worker, with perseverance and diligence.

It is desirable that the mechanical dentist have the equivalent of a high school education, during the course of which special stress should be laid on chemistry, physics and manual training. Then he must have practical training in the making of crowns, bridges, inlays, artificial teeth, and in the proper use of metals and other materials for this work.

The mechanical dentist usually begins his career in the employ of some dentist whose practice is so large that he has need of such an assistant. Here the dental mechanic may earn any-where from $15 to $50 a week, according to his skill. But there are larger opportunities for him too. He may establish his own laboratory and obtain orders for work from a number of dentists at a time; and if he has business ability, and does work of good quality, his earnings may amount to from about $3,000 to $8,000 a year, or more. The mechanical dentist's work is light and pleasant, and sufficiently varied to be interesting, and it is work which offers large opportunities, for, as the number of dentists in the country grows, the need for mechanical assistants is bound to increase also.

Dentistry is a profession of many advantages. The financial outlay connected with the equipment of an office, and the uncertain earnings during the period when the young dentist is beginning to build up his practice, are perhaps the chief disadvantages to be encountered in this profession. Of course, there is a certain amount of unpleasantness in the contact with diseased teeth and mouths, but all doctors must face similar conditions in their humanitarian work. Dentistry is not easy work either, but the advantages far outweigh its disadvantages. It is a growing profession, in which there is plenty of room for ambitious young men—for the number of dentists in the country is small when compared with the population. Then, it is a well-paying profession, and one that is looked upon with much respect. And finally, it is a profession which does much to alleviate human suffering, and makes large and lasting contributions to the welfare of humanity.


CROCKER, ALFRED A.: "Modern Dentistry for the Laity and Industrial Dentistry for the Corporation," Dental Register, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1920.

"Dental Mechanics as a Vocation," U. S. Federal Board for Vocational Education, Vocational Rehabilitation Series No. 41, Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 1919.

DRAPER, HOWARD R.: "Elementary and Dental Radiography," Consolidated Dental Mfg. Co., New York, 1913.

HEAD, J.: "Modern Dentistry," W. B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia, 1920. McCoy, J. D.: "Dental and Oral Radiography," C. V. Mosby Co., St. Louis, 1918.

MARSHALL, J. S.: "Principles and Practice of Operative Dentistry," J. B. Lippincott Co., Philadelphia, 1920.


Dental Cosmos, S. S. White Dental Mfg. Co., Philadelphia.

Dental Digest, Dentists' Supply Co., New York.

Dental Items of Interest, Dental Items of Interest Publishing Co., New York.

Dental Outlook, Dental Outlook Publishing Assn., Inc., New York. Journal of Dental Research, Journal of Dental Research, Inc., New York. Oral Hygiene, W. Linford Smith, Pittsburgh, Pa.

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