The Pros and Cons of Dentistry

Ever wonder if you should become a dentist? If so, knowing the REAL pros and cons of dentistry is crucial.

For years, US News and World Report crowned the dentist as the #1 best job. I first wrote this post in 2013, and being a dentist won that designation for years. In 2018, something changed, and they caught onto what some of us already knew. It slipped to #2 and stayed there, but in 2021, being a dentist slipped all the way down to #9! Maybe they’ve started to see the pros AND the cons of dentistry.

What changed?

Could it be that they were missing something all these years, or did the job actually get worse? That’s a debate for another time, but no matter how great a job is… how bad a job is also matters. These reports often sugarcoat reality and dismiss the challenges of being a dentist.

Becoming a dentist is a huge commitment, so it’s important to know about the pros and cons of dentistry.

If you’ve spent a day or two shadowing a dentist in his/her office, chances are good that it appeared as great as the US News article makes it seem.  It’s pretty hard to find a dentist to shadow who hates their job, and even if they did, would they tell you? Probably not! It’s likely they’re hiding that fact from everyone they know, maybe even themselves. So, recognize that you might not be getting the full picture. When I was researching and observed dentists in their offices, they seemed to love their jobs.

I only got to see the good side, and… I only saw what I wanted to see. I probably would have ignored it if I saw some of the drawbacks that come with dentistry anyway. In essence, I never had the chance see the downside of dentistry before making the commitment.

If you’re considering being a dentist, don’t you want to know if dentistry is really ALL about the great hours, reliable income, warm fuzzies, and job security?

Since I’ve been someone who speaks the truth about being a dentist since 2011, this blog has attracted many potentials who want to know the truth about a career in dentistry. It’s the only place you can go to learn the other side of the story. To help you, I’ve compiled an honest list to understand the pros and cons of dentistry.

The Pros and Cons of Dentistry


  • Good Income. There’s no question this career does allow for a solid, stable income, and there is potential to earn a phenomenal income. But don’t be fooled… it does come with a price. It is an extremely challenging job with a lot of responsibility. Don’t expect it to be easy money. Are you willing to work your booty off to earn that income? If not, this is the wrong career.
  • Autonomy. Be your own boss. Make the decisions you want to make. No need to answer to anyone. But you hold all the financial risk, you have to make the tough decisions, and the buck stops with you. Are you willing to take on that type of responsibility?
  • Respect. Dentists are generally highly trusted and respected. Who doesn’t want that?
  • People. If you like to work with people, you’ll certainly get a lot of people time. It is a very caring profession, and the relationships are the best part of it. Unlike some other businesses, it ISN’T all about the money.
  • Variety. It’s always challenging and interesting. No two days are ever the same. When you think you’ve learned all there is to learn, you’ll see something new. Do you deal well with change and constant learning? If you want life to be black and white, this isn’t for you.
  • Excitement. You wouldn’t expect it to be action-packed, but it’s not your average desk job pushing paper around. There’s never a dull moment. Whether it’s a kooky patient, an assistant who calls in sick, or an emergency root canal, you will not get bored. The day will fly by, and there will be no chance to sit around, bored, staring at the clock waiting for the hours to pass you by.
  • Great hours. You can generally set your hours. Part-time is always a possibility, allowing you to maintain a balanced lifestyle. It’s also a great career for women who want to have a family.
  • Warm Fuzzies. Yes, folks, the warm fuzzies are real. You get a chance to help others and even change lives. Your job is to help make people smile– not a bad goal in my book.
  • Solutions. Everyday you get the chance to offer real, concrete solutions and actually fix things for people.
  • Creativity. People may not realize that there is a lot of creativity to being a dentist. On some levels it’s very pragmatic and scientific, but the actual work is like carving or sculpting. It is an art. You also have many opportunities to use your creativity for problem solving.
  • Demand. This is true. People always need dental services. It seems there is a lot of competition out there now, but if you find your niche, the patients will come.

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  • Education.  Get ready for many years of school. It’ll take at least 8 years in the US (including 4 years of college,) but it’s well worth it if you enjoy the outcome. And if you love being a student like I do, this can actually be a good thing.
  • Costs. Dental school is expensive. Expect to enter into the real world with $500k- $600k of student loans. It doesn’t have to deter you though– your income will help you pay it off eventually. It is possible to pay down this debt, but do your research. I’ve seen new dentists stay stuck in an unhappy career because they can’t afford to leave.
  • Costs, again. High practice overhead. If you want to own your practice, this is on top of your massive student loans. It’s expensive just to open the doors to your practice. Patients may not understand that dental fees are high for a reason. Also, if you want to stay at the top of your game, you’ll have to take continuing education every year. This is a fun aspect of the career, but it still costs money.
  • High Responsibility. You are in charge of someone’s health. Administering anesthesia, prescribing drugs, and essentially performing surgery on teeth are all great responsibilities that are to be taken seriously. When things go wrong, which they do– even when you do everything properly– it’s your responsibility.
  • Stress. With the high responsibility comes the high stress. Not only is someone’s health in your hands, but this is a customer service industry. You have to keep the customer happy. If you do the right thing, this will generally work itself out, but sometimes there are customers that can never be pleased no matter what you do. The pressure is on to do your best work in a limited amount of time, keep the customer happy, and manage your business.
  • Call. Being on call on the weekends. Some people don’t mind this, but I hated it. For me, my weekends were a break from my stressful week, and this “violated” that personal time. I liked my job so much more when I didn’t have to be on call, but you must accept it because it is part of the job description.
  • Challenging Patients. No matter how great you want your work to be, you are not the only determining factor here. If a challenging patient makes it difficult for you to do your best work, chances are the results might not be up to your expectations.
  • Unpredictability. There’s never a dull moment. Whether it’s a kooky patient, an assistant who calls in sick, or an emergency root canal the day will fly by. Recognize this point from the Excitement point in the “Pros” section? While it certainly keeps you on your toes, these unpredictable events can make a day really challenging, really long, and really tiring.
  • High Intensity. Expect intense, close contact with many people throughout the day. Working with people can be a “Pro”, but spending a lot of time 6 inches from another person’s face can get exhausting.
  • The Yuck Factor. You might have to deal with bad breath, stinky people, and some really gross mouths. When you’re used to practicing, the gross-out factor is pretty rare, but I’ve almost thrown up in my mouth one or twice in the 10 years I practiced.
  • Surprises. The text books seem to be in absolutes, but in nature, some things are out of our control. You may do everything by the book, but the results still don’t work out right. Luckily, there are a few pleasant surprises too.
  • Dental Insurance. Fortunately, we haven’t taken the same road that medicine has, but it is still a driving force in dental practice today. Insurance coverage is poor at best, and in the end this leaves both the patients and the dentists unhappy. Dentists struggle to get paid for their work, and patients get pissed at the dentists when their insurance won’t cover a procedure. Insurance companies are even lowering the fees a dentist can charge while prices and overhead are increasing.
  • Physical Stress and Risks. Dentistry can take a serious toll on your body. You are trying to see and work in a very small space and often have to contort your body for long periods of time. The constant high-pitched buzz of the dental drill may lead to hearing loss. And chances are good you will accidentally poke yourself with a needle or dental instrument, potentially leaving you exposed to a blood-borne illness. The body aches can be counteracted with daily exercise and splurges such as massages. The potential of hearing loss can be prevented with earplugs. And the risks of getting HIV or Hepatitis are extremely low, but when an accidental prick happens, it can lead to some unnerving emotions.
  • The Haters. And let’s not forget… patients that hate the dentist but still come to you anyway. Remember those warm fuzzies I mentioned above? Well, they sometimes disappear in the shuffle. We often have 9 patient experiences in a day that give us the warm fuzzies, but the 1 bad apple makes us forget all the good ones. It is possible, but it takes work to let go of the negative and embrace the positive.

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Now it’s your turn, docs. Whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to your career, share any pros and cons of dentistry I may have missed.

— Update: 10-02-2023 — found an additional article Pros and Cons of Being a Dentist from the website for the keyword benefits of being a dentist.

You love life, being a dentist—most days. Other days…well, you consider taking a very long vacation.

You didn’t choose dentistry because you’re crazy about dental fillings and crowns, billing questions, and team management. You jumped into the profession for a lot of reasons that sometimes get lost in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of dental practice life.  

Wherever you are in your career and whatever kind of day you’ve had, you’re not the only dentist in this spot, that much is clear. And sometimes, a good reminder of that can go a long way. So let’s take a realistic look at the highs and the lows of choosing dentistry as a career.

Pro: Being a dentist you can change lives for the better.

Oral health is an important part of taking care of ourselves. Being a dentist means you play a key role in helping people take good care of their teeth. Your touch and advice help to keep diseases at bay. Plus, you replace lost teeth and treat damaged teeth, restoring smiles and the patient’s confidence to flash that smile. 

Furthermore, as you know, dental care isn’t just about healthy teeth and bright smiles. Poor oral health is a risk factor for heart disease, the number one killer in America. You’re saving lives. It may not feel like it sometimes, but your actions create ripples throughout your patients’ lives and the communities in which they live.

Con: You can’t change every life.

The pressure of the ripples you’re creating can feel like a lot of responsibility for one person. It can also be frustrating when you don’t feel like you’re getting through to enough patients about their oral health, making those ripples feel nonexistent and the pond you’re swimming in stagnant. Sure, not everyone is going to commit to a flawless oral health regime, and you will continue to see dental health problems that could have been avoided, but for every challenging case there are a hundred happy smiles that you did make a difference to. 

Pro: Dentists can run their own practice and be self-employed.

Approximately 90% of dentists work in a private practice environment. Some of those work as associate dentists, but every dentist has the opportunity to run their own practice. This isn’t something most doctors can do and earn a living.  

Being self-employed can be wonderful. You can set your own hours and spend your time doing what you love. Most private practice dentists spend 33 hours per week interacting with patients and full-time dentists work approximately 36 hours per week. 

As your own boss, you can run your business as you please and you don’t have to answer to anyone. For some, being a dentist and owning their own practice means practicing dentistry with the specialty focus that brings them the most joy.

Con: Dentists can run their own practice and be self-employed.

Independence and self-determination are key selling points to being your own boss. But self-employment has its downsides. If your practice is busy and you don’t maintain appropriate boundaries, you could find yourself working overtime each week trying to keep up with all your patients. That work-life balance you were looking forward to gets totally upset if you don’t mentor your team members and delegate tasks to them.

If business isn’t going so well, stress and uncertainty may be piling on. You might worry about making ends meet and how you’re going to pay your employees. Furthermore, if something goes wrong, the buck stops with you. You have to shoulder the responsibility when things go awry.

These are all harsh realities of owning your own practice, but the good news is that if you find yourself in this situation, you can make changes to improve your workload, increase your business, and ease your stress. 

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Pro: Being a dentist, you get to experience the amazing changes constantly happening in dentistry and in dental technology.

Dental technology is moving forward in leaps and bounds. It seems like every day a new technology comes out that makes teeth restorations easier or makes the hygiene appointments smoother, more thorough, and more comfortable for patients. 

By choosing to bring technology into your practice that improves and shapes the patient experience, you’re part of this generation of dentists who are shaping the dental industry as a whole. You’re setting the bar and giving patients a new baseline of what to expect. 

Con: You have to keep up with the amazing changes constantly happening in dentistry and in dental technology 

You’ll have to keep up with continuing education credits and training on new equipment. If you don’t, you’ll get left in the dust. Thankfully, you have the mindset of perpetual learning, otherwise you wouldn’t have picked dentistry. 

Pro: Dentists get to work with the best people—their team and patients!

As you can already attest, dental teams are great! It takes a special sort of person to want to deal with people’s mouths all day. As such, dental workers tend to be caring, compassionate individuals that are just plain nice to be around. Furthermore, dental teams tend to be small and people work together for years. Thus, you get to really know your co-workers and become a tight-knit family. 

And the patients are pretty awesome too. Once people get comfortable with a dentist, they tend to stick with the same one. Many of your patients might even become friends over the years!

Con: Dentists have to learn how to manage people.

Mentoring and growing leaders on your team is vital to the health, growth, and success of your dental practice. You know it, and you’ve probably seen what happens to a practice when developing leaders isn’t a priority. But not every dentist has the tools or ability to do so. 

But don’t get too disheartened. There are tools and dental management groups that can help you grow and grow your team.

Pro: Being a dentist, you get to exercise creativity in your daily work.

Being a dentist, you get to combine art and science to create a smile your patient can be proud of. That’s an amazing pro! Think about the last patient who walked in hiding their smile and left flashing it to everyone. 

It’s very satisfying to be able to empower people with a beautiful and functional smile. From simple teeth whitening to dental implants and other tooth replacement options, dentists have an arsenal of techniques they can use to restore their patients’ smiles. 

Con: Sometimes you get stuck in a rut of dentistry that doesn’t bring you joy.

If you’re not practicing the type of dentistry that brings you joy, then being a dentist may start to lose its luster. 

There are solutions, though, to help you bring in the patients who also understand the value of the type of dentistry that makes your heart sing. Like working on your case presentation skills, changing up your marketing, and working on your internal systems and processes. You might even consider continuing education to expand your skills into specialist areas.  

Pro: Dentists have the opportunity to earn a good salary with some work-life balance.

Earning a living wage to support yourself is important, of course. And earning enough to save for retirement while maintaining a healthy work-life balance is something every American hopes to achieve. In dentistry, it is possible. 

The median annual wage for general dentists in 2020 was $158,940—nearly four times higher than the median annual US salary of $40,000. Depending on your location and how well you run your practice, you could be making considerably more.

And because most dentists can set their own hours, you can choose to work part time if you like and still earn a good wage. As such, being a dentist is a great career for parents who want to work while raising a family or dentists who want to work fewer hours. 

Con: You’re not in it for the money.

Is that really a con? Not hardly. 

Wherever you’re at in your dental career, remember what made you fall in love with being a dentist in the first place. Whether it was the opportunity to build relationships with your patients or to combine art and science, take yourself back to the moment when you knew being a dentist was it for you. Hold on to that moment on the difficult days. 

And remember, you’re not alone. There are other dentists out there in your shoes. Talk to your colleagues. Build or join a community of support from others who get it. Provide support in return, too.

Good, kind, caring dentists are necessary. We appreciate you being one of them.


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About the Author: Tung Chi