Is It Worth It? I think so.
There are days when dental school can seem like a nightmare. You are struggling to stay afloat in the never-ending stream of lab practicals, tests, quizzes, and requirements. If you are in clinic too, you are trying to manage your patients and their demands, referring them between departments, staying up-to-date on their dental work flow, and keeping pressure on the lab to fulfill your patients’ work in a timely manner. Meanwhile, your friends in other careers may be getting recruited for jobs with expensive dinners, tickets to events, and enticing offers for jobs promising the moon. I remember listening to their stories and being so envious. Why, oh why do I do this to myself? What is dentistry really doing for me right now?
Take heart. It gets better. All the toils and tribulations you’ll go through will pay off in amazing ways after graduation. Pay your dues now, and I promise that dentistry will reward you handsomely for your strife.
A recent study found that the average private practice dentist earns about $178,000 per year. As you ramp up your proficiency in restorative dentistry, prosthodontics, orthodontics, oral surgery, and implants (for example) the ability to far surpass the average is a definite reality. The potential to earn a fantastic living is possible in a variety of ways—just find the facets of general dentistry that you love the most, get good and fast at it, and watch it “rain”.
Although I speak of financial rewards first, the rewards I consider most important and satisfying are not monetary. Although this initially entices students and drives them to dentistry, the real rewards, and the ones that are sustaining in the long haul, in my opinion, are the following:
1. Flexible Lifestyle
Perhaps you haven’t considered yourself to be a family person, or a triathlete, a fisherman, a gardener, or an RV enthusiast. However, the time will come when the ability to be an active participant in family goings-on, or extracurricular activities, will be immensely satisfying. As a dentist, we rarely have to deal with life-and-death situations, which frees your nights and weekends up for other facets of life. This balance is essential for longevity in our profession and fulfillment with life in general.
2. Patient Care
Providing our patients with a brighter smile, healthier mouth, sweeter breath, and greater self-confidence is what it’s all about. I’m not just speaking of cosmetically based cases either. The work that we do to restore posterior teeth, placing implants, fabricating a good fitting denture or partial, and teaching each patient how to maintain their dental work for a lifetime is a way to reverse a cycle of destruction that the patient could have felt was inevitable.
3. There’s Never A Dull Moment
The field of dentistry is ever changing, and much of that occurs behind the scenes in the laboratory. One of the technological advances I find to be intriguing is advances in stem cell research on deciduous teeth and third molar pulp. Discovering new solutions to clinical problems and restorative material failures are merely the tip of the iceberg in dental research. If you like new challenges and the ability to further the profession behind the scenes, research this may also be a rewarding outlet for you.
Own a dental practice and be your own boss. Set your own schedule, choose the dental materials and equipment you want to work with and hire your own team. There are undoubtedly huge advantages to being the boss; however, a dental team doesn’t lead itself, you will need leadership and business skills in order to achieve the results you want. Developing these skills should be high priority, even while you are in dental school. Several dental schools teach a very short class on business basics, but that’s not nearly enough. I encourage you to read books on business, leadership, managing people, and verbal skills as part of your own personal development.
I’m an avid follower of Tim Ferriss, the author of the 4 Hour Work Week, Tools of Titans, and others. He compiled a list of books that many of the brightest stars in the business, entertainment, and health arenas site as their favorite ones of all time. It is virtually impossible to go wrong with his list! In fact, you can Google “Tim Ferriss book recommendations” and there will be many options. This man is a veritable treasure trove of business and leadership ideas and hacks.
5. Be Part of a Mastermind
One of the most valuable things I did when I was going through dental school was joining the Crown Council. The Crown Council is a group of success-minded dentists that come together to share ideas, strive for continual improvement, and create a culture of success personally, professionally, and in their respective communities. Being a member of this group makes me feel like I’m never alone, like I always have another colleague to reach out to and ask questions. Reach out to local study clubs, dental organizations (ADA, AACD, or AGD), or other entities like the group I’m affiliated with. Never having to go at it alone is supremely comforting and helpful, especially as you begin your career.
6. Creative Outlet
Being creative in dentistry is uniquely satisfying. There are very few healthcare careers in which creativity and artfulness are important. Dentistry not only gives us an outlet to make our patients’ mouths beautiful, but it is immensely gratifying to use all of our disciplines to achieve a cohesive result. We can draw from our tools in orthodontics, prosthodontics, periodontics, and restorative dentistry to make a masterpiece! Not only can you get in touch with your inner artist, but you can make mom and dad proud too, because unlike other artistic endeavors, being a dentist comes with job stability! There will always be an endless supply of teeth to restore, align, clean, replace, and make lovelier.
I remember the pride I felt the first times I donned my scrubs and strolled out onto the clinic floor at dental school as a student doctor. I felt like I had arrived. There are few things in life that feel quite a sweet as the DDS after your name, and being addressed as “doctor”. It makes all the late night (or all night) study sessions, missed social outings, stressful weeks and months, and strained relationships worth it when you reach your graduation ceremony. The title awards you with instant credibility. Once a community knows you are a health professional, many doors will open: board positions for non-for-profits, advisory committees for community development, investment opportunities, etc. Being a dentist gives you an instant advantage.
There you have it, the top 7 reasons why dentistry IS worth the daily struggle. Of course there are so many reasons to love this profession. No two people will have the same experience. The diversity of dentistry and the ability to focus on our strengths makes it a truly unique profession. Now go ace that biochem quiz, or put together another acronym for that anatomy quiz, or go polish your full gold crown. The things you do today and perhaps even struggle with, will lead you to greatness in no time!