The Scoop on Dental Specialties

Sometimes, you feel like you don't want to just be a "Doctor" or a "Lawyer" or just a regular old "Dentist".

Well, you're in luck! There are many specialties in the Dental profession. You could be a Pediatric Dentist, a Periodontist, an Endodontist, a Public Health Dentist, an Oral Pathologist, or an Oral Radiologist. Each specialty is quite a small part of the profession overall and you will need extra training to get into any one of these specialties, but you will still be a Dentist too. The ability to set your own hours, work in a lot of different places, and own your own business is in your reach.

What in the World Do All These Dental Specialists Do?

Each of these specialties does something that seems small, but each one is a big part of Dentistry. If you worked as a Pediatric Dentist you'd work exclusively with kids. (Not a bad job if you want to teach kids not to be afraid of the Dentist!) If you became a Periodontist you'd be charged with treating the gums and the bones that support your patient's teeth. What if you were an Endodontist you would perform root canals and root canal therapy. What about a Public Health Dentist? If you did that kind of work you would work to promote good dental health in your community and if you were an Oral Pathologist you could do the same work by studying diseases of the mouth, gums and tongue. Last, maybe you could be an Oral Pathologist and diagnose diseases of the mouth and tongue through studying and interpreting x-rays and other imaging technologies. If you think you'd get bored as a "Dentist" you've got plenty of choices.

What Kind of Training do I need (A.K.A. - Will I have to go to School?)

Just like all other forms of Dentistry you will have to get a lot of schooling to enter any one of these specialties. You will have to finish college with a Bachelor's Degree (usually in Chemistry or Biology) and then go to one of the 56 Accredited Dental Schools in the U.S. This might create a problem for some folks since there might not be a Dental School around the corner from you.

Once you're in Dental School they teach you everything you need to know about being a Dentist and you'll graduate as either a "Doctor of Medical Dentistry" or a "Doctor of Oral Surgery". After Dental School you'll need to get your license from the State Dental Board after passing a written and a "skills" exam. The license requires continuing education to renew and then you will have to get a couple years of extra schooling to enter your chosen specialty field. In some cases you will have to get another license from the State Dental Board to practice your specialty as well.

How Do I get One of These Jobs Anyways?

The smartest route for most specialists is to start out working for an established Dentist or to work in a larger practice as a General Dentist or Oral Surgeon while you complete the schooling that you need to get into your specialty. Afterwards you can start looking for a job that suits you. Most of these specialties are not conducive to owning your own practice, but they do lend themselves to other forms of work.

Pediatric Dentists and Periodontists have the best ability to open their practices, but in those situations your client base is built mostly from referrals, so if you are not the "social type" where you have to schmooze local Dentists to get lots of referrals you might not want to enter those areas. Plus, all of a Pediatric Dentist's patients age out of those services so you constantly have to keep replenishing your client with new kids. It's not quite as steady as General Dentistry.

Endodontists, Oral Pathologists, and Public Health Dentists can work as part of larger practices as "the one" in their specialty or for Government Agencies where you're doing work in the "public sector". Either way, there are lots of different jobs out there and you'll still have the chance to find something that is going to fit your family and your lifestyle.

Advancement in your career could involve becoming a teacher in your specialty or conducting research in your field. Typically these sorts of things come after years of experience and could suit well someone who is retired or close to retirement.

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Dentists, All Other Specialists Overview

Dentists, All Other Specialist Salary:$137,970
Job Prospects:B
Education after high school:11 years
# Employed in US:4,770
% Who work Part Time:17%
Physical Difficulty:+ + +
Intellectual Difficulty:+ +
Emotional Difficulty:+ +

The Pros of being a Dental Specialist

  • You have the chance to find a job that will suit your family and lifestyle
  • You can make your pick of something specific that you really want to do
  • You can do Government work as well as Hospital and Office Work
  • You are still a Dentist if you want to do some work in your specialty and in General Dentistry
  • You might be able to work alongside another Dentist or in a larger practice or hospital

The Cons of being a Dental Specialist

  • A Bachelor's Degree, Dental School, and additional schooling are required
  • Your license requires continuing education to renew
  • You have to be licensed as a Dentist and in your specialty
  • There are not a lot of jobs in any one of these specialties