What brought you to this career?
I started college with the intent to pursue medical school. A chance conversation with a fraternity brother who was in dental school stimulated me to consider dentistry. My research convinced me that this would be a preferable career pathway. I began shadowing a local dentist one day a week, which strengthened my belief that this was something that I was interested in.
What is your most memorable experience in your career?
The day I found out I had been selected for specialty training (endodontics) was the most memorable and exhilarating moment in my dental career.
What is a typical day like for you?
I see between 10 and 15 patients a day, with about 7 of those being root canal treatments, the rest as consultations, post-operative evaluations and recalls of previous treatments. I am typically working with 1, 2, or even 3 patients at a time. It is very detailed and precise work, so there is a constant need to remain focused.
What do you like most about your job; what motivates you throughout the day?
Root canals have a significant reputation, of course. I am a fixer by nature, so helping people appeals to me. It is especially gratifying that I can guide patients through an anxiety-producing procedure in a way that is frequently more gentle that they anticipated. It is not uncommon for us to hear a patient say afterwards “that was better than most fillings I have gotten”, or, “that’s the best dental appointment I’ve ever had – could you be my dentist?” That is my reward.
What advice would you give for someone looking to pursue a similar career?
(What education/certifications, skills or experiences would they need, what salary could they expect to make?)
Dental school is very challenging to get into these days. (In fact, some reports show it is harder to get into dental school than medical school with only 1/18 applicants gaining admission.) At a minimum, a bachelor’s degree is necessary with certain coursework (mainly sciences) prerequisite for application. Competition is fierce, so it is rarely enough to have great undergraduate grades and high standardized test scores (the dental school test is called the Dental Aptitude Test (DAT)). Additionally, applicants need to show a sustained interest in the field through mentorships, shadow programs and volunteerism in community events. Once you have graduated from dental school, if you wish to become a specialist in dentistry (there are 9 specialties), you would need to complete a residency program that will require an additional 2-4 years. Dentists practice in a variety of settings (private group and solo practices, community health clinics and hospitals, and the military) and salaries vary widely. However, the average general dentist probably makes around $200,000/year, the average specialist $300,000.