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Dental hygienist? This is why you don't want to become a dentist.

You might have seen reports claiming that dentists have the best jobs in the world. Actually, a few months ago, US News and World Report ranked dentist as one of the best professions in America.

But wait, not so fast. Could this publication be sugar-coating or covering the realities of this line of work? Is being a dentist really all about reliable income, warm fuzzies, great hours, and constant demand?

The truth is; becoming a dentist is not that rosy.  Have you ever thought of the extensive and expensive schooling that goes with the profession? What about the ever demanding responsibilities that they take once they qualify to practice? 

This is not about killing dreams, but one must be well-versed in what is ahead of them before making that life-changing decision. If you really feel that you want to take up a career in the dental industry, you might want to consider becoming a dental hygienist.

A career as a hygienist requires fairly less education but still guarantees reasonable perks, including job security, flexible working conditions, a competitive salary, and tremendous job satisfaction.

Let’s explore some of the above aspects in detail: 

Many years of school: It takes around eight years to become a dentist!

It takes around two years to become a registered dental hygienist (RDH). This is not the case with dentists. First, you will need to spend about four years at the university to obtain an undergraduate bachelor’s degree.

Following graduation from the university, you have to join a dental school after passing the Dental Admission Test (DAT). The dental school is also a four-year doctorate program. Upon graduation, you will receive your DMD or DDS degree, depending on the program your school offers. Note; there is no notable difference between the two awards, and they are both attained following the fulfillment of the same educational requirements.    

After completing dental school, you will now become a general dentist. However, if you wish to specialize in one of the nine advanced practice areas, you could take another three years or so. In a nutshell, to become a specialist dentist, you will spend between 8-11 years in the university upon completing high school. Unless you love being a student, those years are quite a lot. Your colleagues and friends will, by that time, have established their lives with stable jobs, homes, and families.

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No one understands debt better than dentists.

Dental school is among the most costly graduate programs. Most dental students graduate with about $250,000 in debt. The most expensive schools will leave you with roughly $500,000 in debt upon graduation. Tack on a typical student’s debt from their undergrad studies, to purchasing a house, a car, etc. and their debt quickly escalates.

Now, if you thought graduating with $250,000 in debt is awful, wait until you decide to set up or buy your own practice. Usually, this can cost between $300,000 and $500,000. Some opt to borrow loans, which is not an easy way of funding a business. Others opt to work as associate dentists; however, sometimes finding a dental office that can match your ambitions is quite challenging.

Demands of managing a business

The business side of managing a dental practice (if you plan to own one) is quite challenging. Besides overseeing the daily operations, you will also be the chief provider for your practice. Most of the revenue coming in never ends up in your pocket. It goes to pay for staff salaries, taxes, insurance coverage, maintenance, supplies, etc.

Also, do not forget how expensive dental instruments are. For instance, a house milling machine that is used to make crowns costs around $100,000.  Most dental equipment, tools, and materials don’t come cheap. On the other hand, manufacturers are inventing new dental equipment every day and dentists are always feeling the pressure to modernize their work tools. Generally, it is difficult to stay ahead and ensure your practice only employs the latest technology.  

A repetitive job that is physically demanding and stressful 

For dental hygienists, there is never a dull moment, since they are not tied only to the operatory room. However, dentists do many of the same things repeatedly. You have to make sure this profession is right for you, and that you can cope with doing the same activities time and again on the daily.

Even worse, doing precise and monotonous work in a tiny space, while having your eyes focused on tiny spaces via loupes for an extended period, makes it physically demanding. It is tough on your hands, shoulders, and back. If you have poor ergonomics, you will see and feel the results of that before long. Chronic back problems, hypertension, and carpel tunnel syndrome abound with dentists. You will possibly look for a chiropractor at some point in your life. A study has actually confirmed that dentists are subject to a range of stress-related emotional and physical problems that may even lead to suicide!

Making a case for dentists

We have already seen that it requires years of schooling and a lot of money to become a dentist. However, if you are genuinely interested and truly love becoming a dentist, it can definitely pay off in the long run.

The average annual salary for dentists, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is $159,200 with the highest 10% earning more than $208,000 while the lowest 10% earning less than $79,000. It is worth noting, though, dentists’ salaries also vary based on specialty, years of practice, and location. The highest paying states in this profession are Delaware, then North Carolina, Alaska, and New Hampshire.  

The outlook is promising, too. Between 2016 and 2026, the BLS predicts a 19% growth in the need for dentists.

What’s more, if being your own boss appeals to you, this occupation provides several flexible options. When you graduate, you can opt to join a practice as an associate or employ your entrepreneurial skills and open your practice. 

Lastly, dentists are highly respected in society and applauded for their work. However, to earn that respect and goodwill, you have to invest lots of energy, time, and effort.


Summary: Miscellaneous facts

Here are three random facts about the dentist and hygienist profession: 

  • Top ten professions: Dentists are consistently ranked among the top ten careers in the U.S. due to their competitive income, good work-life balance, and low unemployment rate.
  • Suicide: An awful statistic about this career. Dentists have one of the highest suicide rates among any profession. They are under a significant amount of stress resulting from patients’ complaints, debts, physical and emotional demands, as well as long working hours.
  •  A dental hygienist can become a dentist But first, the hygienist needs to have a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. Then afterwards, to have a successful transition, apply for a 4-year doctoral program to acquire a DDS or DMD.   

Bottom line

Like we mentioned earlier, being a dentist or a dental hygienist is very rewarding and lucrative. Equally, both have their shortcomings. But to sum it all; if you wish to pursue a career in the dental field that is less stressful, dental hygiene is a perfect choice.

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