The Pros and Cons of Dentistry

Contemplating a career in dentistry?

Métiers-Dentiste, humour-années 20
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If so, you’ll be happy to hear that US News and World Report recently crowned the dentist as the #1 best job of 2013.  But wait, not so fast.  Is this report sugar-coating the realities of the job?  Is dentistry really all about the great hours, reliable income, warm fuzzies, and constant demand?  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 that 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, or more accurately, I only saw what I wanted to see.

I never had the chance see the downside of dentistry before making the commitment.

Since I’ve established myself as the expert who loves to hate dentistry (I know, it’s quite an accolade,) this blog has attracted potentials who want to know the truth about a career in dentistry.  It’s the only place they can go to learn the other side of the story.  So I’ve compiled a list to help those searching for answers, and maybe to show that I’m not all about the hate.

The Pros and Cons of Dentistry

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • Education.  Get ready for many years of school.  It’ll take at least 8 years (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 several hundred thousand dollars of student loans.  Don’t let this deter you though– your income will help you pay it off eventually.  Also, if you want to stay at the top of your game, you’ll want 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.
  • Costs, again.  High practice overhead.  It’s expensive just to open the doors to your practice.  Patients may not understand that dental fees are high for a reason.
  • 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.
  • 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 it 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.

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

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293 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Dentistry

  1. Is there a post in which you said how where you able to quit it. Did you saved money? Or just a Im not doing this anymore people, deal with it? What do you do now?. Im so curious Im devouring this blog. Any links.

    1. Hi Tavo,
      I love to hear that you are “devouring this blog”. I never really know if I am boring people. 😉 My story is a long, convoluted one– or maybe I just made it that way. I practiced for 10 years and was never fully content. It was okay initially, and then as the years went on I began to despise it more and more. Finally after years of despair and feeling stuck, I couldn’t take it any longer. But when I hit that point, it still took me a few years to actually make the change. Those years sucked! I now run a weight loss business in which I do personal one-on-one coaching. If you want to see my process from the beginning of practice, it starts at this post: https://lolabees.me/2012/02/23/love-is-blind/ and the following 20-25 posts continue the story. I know, it’s a lot. There is also a tab across the top titled Career Change that has all of the posts in which I discuss different aspects of my experience. I still have some more posts planned. They’ll be less about my specific story and more about my beliefs on how to change. I hope you’ll stick around and continue to share any insights you may have. From my end, writing the blog and hearing from people who may feel similarly has been a huge part in helping me break free.

      1. This one definitely makes me wonder. I love health and fitness, it’s basically been my life since I was 14 (currently 23 in my 2nd year of dental school). Just never seemed like a viable career option due to instability, not enough pay, inconsistencies and just not very reliable in general. How have you liked working as a coach? Have you had to take a significant hit to your lifestyle in terms of how much time and money is available to do what you want?

        1. Hi David,
          The coaching is actually not that different from dentistry in some ways. I still get to work with people, which can be fun (and sometimes hard,) but everything they choose to do or not do, is 100% their responsibility. I like it that way. It is very rewarding to help people change their habits, and equally as sad to watch them fail. You get to see both sides– as with any business. I think in most cases it will not come anywhere close to the income potential you have in dentistry, but in some cases you can do very well. One thing I am learning is that the weight loss space is very competitive, so you do have to work very hard to be seen.

          If you love it,, find a way to keep it in your life!! I’m sure you do personally. Are you finding that dentistry isn’t what you thought it would be?

        2. (for some reason it doesn’t seem like there is a “reply” button to your response post so hopefully you see this.)

          I wouldn’t say dentistry is different than I thought it would be, I only just started my 2nd year of dental school so my experience is fairly limited. But I would say I’d be lying if I said I LOVE teeth lol. I mean it’s all fine but I’m not truly excited about it. Then again I’d say 95% of people are not truly excited about their careers. The only thing that gets me really excited to learn about and apply is health/fitness/working out for the most part but as mentioned, and as you alluded to in your response, it is a very competitive field where you often cannot depend on a steady income and even when it is steady it is often not that much. So I feel like the instability of a job in that field may stress me out more than the lack of love for dentistry.

          I certainly don’t hate dentistry either, I just hope I can find a way to make it fun and something I at least somewhat look forward to doing (even if it’s for the patients and the office setting being fun as opposed to the actual dentistry work) for the next 40 years and not something I’m just trying to get through for the weekends and occasional vacations.

          Any thoughts/opinions/tips are certainly welcome

        3. I can understand that. You really won’t know how it is until you are out in practice. I do think you can learn to like it and hopefully you can learn to love it. It sounds like you are well on your way, and maybe it’s worth continuing on your current path. My advice to you is if you ever decide that it is awful and that you do hate it, that you do what you can to keep your life fulfilled and fulfilling and pursue the things you love. There really are so many options out there, you just don’t want to get trapped in a life that isn’t right for you. I would also keep up your interest in fitness, exercise, etc… you never know what will come your way.

        4. Thanks for the feedback. Definitely a lot for me to think about. Today we did some casts and then prepped 2 teeth for crowns…as we were doing it I thought it was pretty fun, like sculpting and I think if I have the mindset of making a piece of art it adds a fun feel to it. Will I ever be waking up excited to go do dentistry? I somewhat doubt that, but I feel like that is the same for most jobs. Who knows though…hopefully I can make it fun.

          As for keeping up with the fitness/health lifestyle….I’m too obsessed to drop it at this point lol. One part of me thinks that having dentistry or some career not involved with fitness might actually be better in that regard to provide some balance since it would then become 100% of my life. Who knows though.

          Thanks again

        5. Believe it or not, there is a ton of artistry and creativity in dentistry. You never know, maybe you will love it! I understand your thoughts about a career in fitness– also, if you have to do it every day for work, it might lose it’s appeal. Good luck! Maybe someone else on this thread has some insight for you. Keep us posted on how it goes!

  2. My parents were dentist haters. Because of that I remember going to a “bargain” dentist (not unlike the one in the photo above) in Green Forest, Arkansas. I have night terrors of that crazy man with his grinder slipping off of my teeth and hitting me in the upper lip and nose.
    Damn.

    Anyway, I believe that dentists, like everybody else, are expensive. And they’re hella worth it.
    No hating here. 🙂

    1. Yeah, those types of experiences as kids can cause major problems for people when they become adults. Sounds like your desire to take care of yourself is stronger than those nightmares. Glad you’re not an anti-dentite. Your opinion is still welcome here anytime. 😉

      1. Re photo: Really, that never happened to you? 😉 I love your posts Lolabees, I wish so much they were around when I was still a student. Even though I’ve left the profession now, (well, until my registration expires at the end of the year anyway), I still love reading your posts. Keep ’em coming!

        1. Thanks, Mia! It seems that you can’t get info with this perspective anywhere on the internet. What are you doing now and when did you leave?

          And re your comment about having the right personality… not unoriginal at all, but instead very insightful. There’s a reason so many are talking about that here. It’s so true, and it took me a LONNNNNG time to realize that about myself. So instead of changing something I can’t (and believe me, I tried,) I decided to make my life fit around my personality. Duh, if only I knew that earlier. 😉

  3. Great pro and con breakdown!
    I am relatively new to the game, but as of right now I am definitely on the Pro side. There are always bad days and tough patient situations, but most high paying jobs in every field are stressful in their own way. The great thing about dentistry is that you have the freedom to limit and make your own hours, so having a lot of stress free personal time is a nice perk. Many of my friends in other job fields make similar amounts of money, but have much less vacation time and longer hours than I do.
    There are also many different ways to practice dentistry, which will affect how you view your job. As you have described in your previous posts, not all dental offices are created equal!

    1. Hey Dr H! It’s great to hear from the Pro side of things because I’m definitely not trying to talk anyone out of dentistry– just give both sides– and your comment helps even that out. There are a lot of you out there that enjoy it, so it must be good for a reason or two. 😉 I’m glad to hear it’s serving you well. Thanks for chiming in!

    2. Heyy Dr. H. I read your post and was wondering if I can get some feedback on being a dentist and all. Im 19 and wanted to pursue a career in dentistry but not too sure yet. If you can email me with some feedback please. tajeenhasan93@gmail.com

  4. Hey Lolabees, great post, had to share it on my “How to Avoid the Dentist” facebook page! Hope you don’t mind. I also note that under pros and people you said “it’s not about the money”. That and many other qualities is what made YOU a great dentist. I wish all dentist’s felt that way. Additionally, you may have had moments without the warm fuzzies, but you never made your patients feel that way. Which is extraordinary given your honest direct way of being. Love it! Heidi

    1. Aww, Heidi! I’m humbled. Talk about warm fuzzies! I miss you, girl. One thing is we certainly made a GREAT team. I always felt (and still do) that if you do the right thing, the money will follow. The idea of quotas makes me uncomfortable. It’s hard to imagine some practices (you know which ones) run that way. When you do the right thing, you don’t have to “sell” services people don’t need, and you can respect their individual financial situations, and they’ll trust that you have their best interest in mind and keep coming back. I’ve recently come into contact with another hygienist I might connect you with. She’s doing some pretty cool stuff. And BTW– you are welcome to share my posts anytime– especially if you flatter me this much along the way. 😉

  5. You summed it up well once again! Great dissection of the pros and cons of the profession. As usual, I’m more in line w/ the cons-side of things. Right now working to get my debts down so I can either go to part-time or do something else. Someday, I’ll be free of the needle and the drill!

  6. Well said Lolabees!! I would like to add a few comments as someone who has practiced for 15 years and is not content with dentistry anymore either (as I have already stated on your blog many times). This is regarding the con about the debt. This is a BIG con and must be taken very seriously. My alma mater dental school now has a total cost of about $400k for 4 years. Thankfully it was less than half of that when I attended. If I had to pay that much now I would never have gone!! To pay off that debt in 20 years at a 4% interest rate you will have to pay about $2500 per month. That’s 30k a year in payments!! That is not chump change for a recent grad who cannot expect to make a high income right away working as an associate. You have a real burden that will be a monkey on your back for years even if you are making good money and if you have undergrad loans too it is even worse!! I would suggest going to a state dental school vs. a private one if possible which is half the cost. Still, 200k in loans is an awful lot too but much more manageable. If you want to start or purchase an exisiting practice, plan to go into serious debt for that as well. I paid over 450k for my practice and the loan payments were about $7000 per month that was taken directly off the top of my earnings for 7 years. While you might be making good money it takes YEARS before you able to be out of that debt and actually get the full benefit from your earning potential. Don’t forget you will need to buy a home and if you are in that much debt from school loans you won’t get the home of your dreams. You will have to settle for what you can afford after your the school loans are paid each month. I was very unhappy that my first home was not the dream home that I thought a dentist should be living in when I realized that although I had great credit, I only qualified for a certain mortgage amount because of my student loan debt. If you are a woman you may not be able to pay off all this debt by working only part-time if you want to have a family (see the pro about great hours- it is not always true). Unless you have a spouse that makes good money, plan on picking up your drill full-time soon after your maternity leave so you can pay your student loan debt and if you own your own practice, you have to get back to pay your practice loan and overhead. Also, you may have to work nights and Saturdays to accommodate your patients and those are not great hours. You can choose not work those hours but in doing so you may not be able to have all the patients/ income you could have so you have to make a choice. This is especially tough on parents who want to attend their children’s sporting events, plays etc. I would think long and hard about some of these things and your future earning potential and happiness before choosing to be a dentist. I personally put so much in that I can’t quit now (I still owe money but thankfully I am almost done paying my loans) however, now I have discovered I really am not content with my career. All that time, effort and money and I am really not happy. It sucks.

    1. I totally agree with you, Blue Heron, with today’s competitive market you have to cater to your patients’ demands on your time. When I started dental school never thought about the time it would take away from my future family. I cannot attend my children’s sport events, miss out on school activities e.g. Halloween parades, holiday parties, ect. Like most people we don’t think about how our career would affect our future children since our main focus was getting accepted into a school. Looking back, I wished I had gone to hygiene school, less headaches, less financial investment, and still enjoy the people to people interaction. Yes after working in the field for 10+ years, my friends and I call each other often to daydream about our “early retirement”

      1. RTR, more great points. I hear from a lot of people who also wonder if they should go to hygiene school instead, so I think they’ll find what you have to say helpful. I still think you can make a great living on a hygienist’s income, though it’s funny… a lot of the hygienists I know seem to think they are poor. I’d love to hear from a hygienist or 2 about that. But I agree– much less stress and pressure with a lot of the perks. I wish you lots of luck reaching your early retirement!!

        1. I think your blog has turned into a support group for checked out dental professionals! Add me to the list, I have 20 yrs as an assistant, front office and hygienist…..and I’m only 38 😉 Yes, I too am burned out, but my burn out has lead to ignition of another flame.

          In answer to the financials, I think we are all broke at different levels. It is the attitude that keeps you broke (and I don’t mean YOU as in I’m pointing a finger at you). If you want things to change, you have to change….find something that adds a value to your practice so that you are not having to chase the drill. Show up in different ways to patients and they will show up for you….trust me, if you want it, it’s there for you….but YES I agree that clinical can suck and so can dentistry. I’ve worked with the best and I’ve worked with the worst, and the only difference with the best was their passion, and communication. When you let your patients show up, they will

          If you want to add a product to your practice that has the potential to explode it, I’d be happy to talk to you about it. If you want to learn about all natural products and supply your patients with an experience, I’d be happy to talk to you about that too. I am becoming quite fond of helping offices do great things for their bottom line and helping patients feel great about their smiles and lives.

          I love the art of dentistry, but I don’t love the relationships that dentistry has for itself, its patients or its coworkers….who btw are more like the family that you never really wanted….unless you are lucky enough to work with an amazing staff where everything flows smoothly……I’ve seen like 20 of those in my life, and I’ve temped off and on for 10 of those 20 years…..I’ve seen A LOT of offices in my tenure.
          We have become a profession that cares so much, that we carry the bureden of disease and the stress of repairing it, all without tackling the basics. Really teaching, and I mean REALLY teaching people HOW to be healthy at home is where it’s all at! Sell them products……they want what you recommend….if they get it from you, you could add the value of teaching them how to use it. Sell them supplements that are not only good for their mouths, that are also good for their bodies. Learn about prevention techniques and get in there with them.

          2 yrs ago I “retired” somewhat (I’ll still fill in at times) and became an oral health coach. I started a blog http://www.naturalgumption.com, have dedicated myself to helping people get clear about the true causes of periodontal disease, decay and occlusion. I’ve compiled a laundry list of what products work with what, and why. Fire ignited…….finally

          Good luck fellow dental-ites…..who’s starting the closed FB Group page for burned out dental professionals? I would, but I just don’t have the time to admin it!!!

    2. Blue Heron-
      Such great points, and I’m so happy to have you weigh in because the reality is… here I am making a statement that it is a great career if you want to have a family, and I don’t even have kids!! Haha! What do I know!?!? 😀 That’s a great example of how I assumed something I don’t really know about firsthand. You are right. I was able to work part-time for a few reasons. 1) I am a DINK– Dual Income No Kids. So yes, if I had kids I would have more expenses and would have to work more hours. 2) I never owned my own practice, so I only had student loans to pay back– I never had practice loans, so I too am pretty delusional about that. And all this time I thought one of the reasons I never liked practicing was because of bad jobs, and that maybe it would have been better for me if I owned my practice. I know many people love it that way, but knowing myself and knowing what I know about you, I can only assume that if I had owned, I would have only felt more trapped in the career also. The other thing you mentioned that I didn’t consider is that tuition costs are SO MUCH higher than when we went to school. That’s important.

      I think you’ll help a lot of people make an important decision. Thanks, as always I love your input! Keep at it, and eventually you’ll get there!! (We all need a little cheerleading at times, right?)

      1. Hi Blue Heron, I think your posts are great and extremely insightful. I’m only sorry that you had to come to the realisation through experiencing the difficulties you’ve experienced and continue to do so. I am really shocked by the tuition costs of dentistry you guys have to pay. As RTR pointed out, it must be extremely tough when you’ve got a family to consider. I really hope things get better for you both.

  7. Hello lolabees! I just came across your blog googling for reasons that dentists don’t like their jobs for a school assignment – I’m a pre-dental student (also in Denver! Hooray!) and just wanted to leave you a note on how inspiring and encouraging your blog is. Is it SO refreshing to hear someone talk about the downsides to dentistry because I haven’t heard one person ever bring up the topic. I think its great to see the other side of the profession and to get a glimpse into your life and how you walked away. You are a kick-ass woman! Thank you from all of us pre-dents who needed to hear a little more truth and a little less warm fuzzies.

    1. Hi gray- You made my day! 😀 I’m so glad to hear from you and that you’re finding this information helpful. Check out the comments and you might get even more helpful opinions. I think it’s so important to have a good understanding of what it’s all about. How cool you are in Denver too! It’s such a great place. Thanks for the kind words, and feel free to ask any questions or share your thoughts along the way. Good luck!!

  8. Great blog, lolabees! I have to admit, I’ve really enjoyed reading this thread. Admittedly, when I first read someone’s negative review of my chosen profession, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat “attacked”. But then reason quickly set in and I realized that dentistry isn’t for everyone. And better to get out for the right reasons than to stick with it for all the wrong ones, practicing clinically marginal or unacceptable dentistry. So, to those with the “teeth” to get out, I say well done.

    For me, I absolutely LOVE my job; I think I have the greatest job in the world! I get up in the morning excited to go to work. I get to meet some wonderful people and take care of them/help them. I have an amazing staff that is like family to me. And the work challenges both my scientific intellect as well as my artistic side.
    Am I rich? Well, based on my tax bracket, the government sure thinks so. But I agree with the earlier comment that wealth is an attitude. I have everything I need and some of what I want…so, yeah, I’m a “rich” man because I can afford a home and food for my family. I truly believe as my mentor told me: “if you just focus on practicing the absolute best dentistry you can do, the income will follow”.
    Granted, my bills would choke a mule and the uninformed public has no idea how we are nickle and dimed to death by various taxes, licensing fees, organization dues, staffing costs, lab fees, etc. As we often joke, most are convinced that we take home every single penny that walks in the front door. Ironically, many of these “complainers” are my patients that are car dealers, lawyers or farmers whose income far exceed mine and their overhead is trifle compared to ours.

    Oh, well. If that’s the price we have to pay to have this great job, so be it.

    That said, I hope that prospective “future dentists” really look at the pros and cons you are setting forth. Going into a profession as stressful as this just for the money is a recipe for failure. We all can point to dozens of our colleagues who are miserable. They hate their jobs, and because of that, they are lousy dentists that do mediocre work at best, and their income reflects that. These are the ones that need to find another career…their true passion. Because they sure as heck aren’t helping to improve the public image of dentistry.

    1. Hi Dr B! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I find it very refreshing to hear your honesty about feeling “attacked.” I don’t find it refreshing because I want to make anyone feel defensive, but because you admit that with the same honesty with which I admit my confessions on this blog. It’s good to hear that perspective because it’s not a response I would have ever expected, but one I totally understand. It’s like insulting someone’s mom. 😉 Anyway, I’m glad you realized that the blog isn’t really about that.

      I’m also really happy to hear your perspective on this post. This post should really be about the pros as well as the cons of dentistry. Since my blog has become sort of a “support group” for those not entirely content with the career, it tends to sway in that direction. I can certainly understand your love of the field, and I admire it. If only I could have felt that way!! It also sounds completely genuine. While I can say I have no regrets and do not miss practicing dentistry at all, it’s like breaking up with your first love– I still have a lot of positive memories and think fondly of the career. I think the best part about your comment is that you show that if you love doing this, the rest will follow, and the challenges that go along with it do NOT outweigh the rewards. Thanks for sharing your perspective and thanks for getting that it’s not the right career for all of us! It’s nice to get that support from our fellow dentists. Your comment could really help a lot of prospective dental students decide if they are doing this for the right reasons.

      1. In response to Dr. Bever’s post I just wanted to say that I am glad to see a dentist on here who is happy with their career. I honestly used to feel that way about dentistry too until various disappointments happened along the way during my career that added up to the state of unhappiness I feel now. I won’t go into all of these now but I do want to say that just because a dentist may not be happy with their career it does not automatically mean that they are practicing clinically marginal or unacceptable dentistry. While I am no longer crazy about doing dentistry, I still make sure I do the best job possible for my patients. I have practiced long enough that I can do my procedures well and have consistent results. If there ever is an issue with my work, it is corrected at no charge to the patient. I care about people and that will never change no matter how much I dislike dentistry and therefore I will never compromise on my work. I do refer out endo, oral surgery and give certain cases to my partner if I don’t want to do them. I do agree though that there are dentists out there who aren’t doing a good job (for various reasons) and if you are not doing a good job you should have the “teeth to get out” because you are not being fair to your patients and could potentially cause them harm. Until I decide on another career though, I will continue to do a good job no matter what because I am just not built that way to not care. I did not go into dentistry just for the money, I accepted the fact that is was hard work and stressful but it has not turned out the way I had hoped (and money is not the reason why). I never thought I would feel this way but I do. I have seen both kinds- a happy dentist that is a terrible clinician and an unhappy one who is extremely talented so I would say that there are good and bad dentists out there and whether they are happy or not does not necessarily affect the quality of dentistry that they produce.

        1. Blue Heron,
          I sure hope my comment didn’t give the impression that I was implying all practitioners unhappy in their field automatically do marginal work. If it did, I sincerely apologize. I am quite certain there are dentists out there unhappy with their career choice, but still performing their duties at or above the standard of care. I applaud you (and those in your predicament) for continuing to give your patients excellent care, even though you may be dreading each and every day. That is incredibly hard to do. [In undergrad, I got a lucrative job as a vacuum cleaner salesman…the worst 4 days of my life.]
          My comment was merely to suggest a relationship or correlation between happiness and desire to perform at very high levels. I am well aware that correlation does equal causation.
          Sadly, dentists like you fly under the radar of the peer review systems because you do continue to provide excellent care. Being unhappy in ones chosen profession ultimately leads to dismal rewards…and not just monetary rewards. Personal satisfaction, emotional health, etc. All the “intangibles” that young people in search of a career wouldn’t necessarily know to include in a list of benefits they want.
          Had I chosen to follow my original career path, I would be making substantially more money…but I would be MISERABLE! And in my opinion (humble as it may be), it just isn’t worth it.
          To make a long story short, I just hope people looking at dentistry as a career option see it as more than a paycheck. If you love the work, the people and the risk/responsibilities, it is incredibly rewarding.

  9. Dr bever is rigth if you follow your passion money will come, but for students all I can say its that they need to know first hand, job conditions and actual clinic enviroment to decide if dentistry is what they really want? And they need to know first hand, all of what a dentist do, because its not all glamour and smiles, And you also need to picture yourself doing all that for a big part of your life becouse in dentistry its all about doing, and that gets tedious. From what I know now about it. I would choose something else. So make sure you weigth all the things.

    1. That’s a good point. It would be nice if there were a way to find out what it’s really like in practice because it is very different from school. Observing a dentist at work doesn’t really give an idea of what it is like to actually walk in their shoes and do the job. Hmm… that would have saved me a lot of time.

      1. In deciding whether to apply to dental school, I sought out a local dental lab and paid the lab to put me through a mini-apprenticeship/internship. The lab taught me waxing and crown & bridge fabrication. Wow, was that challenging work and not nearly as fun as I though it would be!!!

        Now, I know plenty of dentists who say that your hand skills will improve with time and that anyone can do this job. That may be true for some, but I’m convinced that you really do need (at least) above average 3-D visualization skills and some artistic ability to *thrive* at this job. Teeth are highly irregular in shape and contour. You need to be able to hold the image of what the tooth should look like in your mind, and then you need to be able to meticulously carve and shape to those specifications. (And you won’t know what is meant by “meticulous” until you’ve actually picked up the tools, carved/shaped the tooth to the best of your ability, and then had your work critiqued by someone who really understands what the final result should look like.)

        Dentistry is NOT simply drilling a hole, filling it to the rim with putty, flashing the putty with a blue light, and then charging the patient $200 for 15 minutes of your time. It is MUCH harder than that. It is nothing like carpentry where you push the plywood board flush against the guide and then run it through the saw to produce a beautiful clean cut. At least in the dental lab, there are literally no easy steps like that.

        So, if you’re thinking about applying to dental school, I would highly recommend working in a dental lab in some capacity. If you’re already carving wooden ducks or sculpting wax figurines as a hobby, then maybe it’s OK to skip this step. But for most people, shadowing a dentist is in no way a substitute for actually doing dental lab work in a dental lab. Make sure that you have the genuine interest and ability to do this type of work BEFORE you apply to dental school.

        If dentistry isn’t for you, then you can always use your pre-health courses for a career in medicine, podiatry, pharmacy, etc… Remember, it is very easy to fool both yourself and the admissions committee into thinking that you really want to be a dentist.

        1. Wise words, Dave. I had never thought of that, but I think that’s a really cool idea. At least it allows you to experience some of the technical side of the job. I can remember waxing up crowns in dental school. You’d get it as perfect as you could, and as you were pulling it off the die it would crack in your hands. So frustrating!! Anyway, imagine doing work that has to be that meticulous in a wet environment that you have to keep dry, not to mention managing a person’s comfort and personality. It’s tough work! But you seem to get that.

          So did you get anywhere with your decision??

        2. I think a lab is a good idea but I rather shadow a dentist, because that the main mistake most people make. they ask themselves Am I good enougth with my hands? Am I artistic enougth? But I dont think thats a good question, because that just require practice.

          A better question is, Do I really want to work on people mouths? Do I really want to work ON people? Do I really want to work ON the organs able to produce more pain to people?
          Am I willing to risk my health everyday? If you answer Yes to that type of questions with full knowledge then the hands part is easy and not really a challege in normal conditions.

          Reality is you dont have to be michelangelo to practice dentistry, you will need just patience to not smack a canvas that keeps moving ruining your masterpiece or that start crying before you even start painting.

        3. Tavo,
          ” Reality is you dont have to be michelangelo to practice dentistry, you will need just patience to not smack a canvas that keeps moving ruining your masterpiece or that start crying before you even start painting.”

          Your comment made me laugh and is so true. The hand skills can be learned with practice so just because you aren’t carving perfect wax teeth prior to entering dental school does not mean you can’t learn to drill and fill. It is true about the “canvas” though. Some patients are so difficult to work on that you just can’t do a good job on them no matter how hard you try. They move around too much, have a very small mouth, refuse to stay open or are generally not very cooperative. This has been one of my greatest frustrations. My “masterpiece” gets ruined and I need to accept the fact that it’s the best I can do with the situation. Perfect dentistry is not always achieveable in an imperfect world with imperfect patients. Of course in dental school they neglect to tell you that!!

        4. Hi Dave, that is the best advice I have ever heard regarding the profession. I think those two aspects you mentioned are critical-having a genuine interest and ability. I also agree that working in the dental lab is BY FAR one of the best ways you can gauge this. The third aspect in working out your suitability would be an awareness of the stress that can be generated in the clinic, and whether you have the personality type to deal with it. Those combined should make it fairly clear to someone whether they can last the distance in dentistry without burning out. Awesome comment, thanks.

  10. Sorry for not proof reading before posting: correlation does NOT equal causation. My Sociology professor is rolling in his grave, I’m sure. 😉

  11. Dr. Bever,
    I figured you were not trying to imply that but I responded to help clarify for others who may be reading this post who are dental patients and for those possibly contemplating a career in dentistry that not all unhappy dentists are doing substandard work. Dentistry aside, there are many people out there that are unhappy with their jobs but they still perform them properly because they are still ethical people with a good moral compass. That being said, I agree that being happy with one’s career choice certainly can make a difference in the outcome of their career. Doing it because you have to and doing it because you love it are two entirely different things. Glad to hear you love it and that there are people like you out there. I got as far as Sociology 101 (after all I had to take my science and math pre reqs for dental school) so don’t worry about your misquote in that department. Your professor is probably happy you remembered something after all. 🙂

    1. I’m really glad you said that because it is important to clarify (I think mostly for patients’ sake) that as dentists we can dislike what we do, but because we operate from wanting to do what’s right and ethical, we still give great care and the best we have. I can absolutely say that was my case while in practice. Like you, I cannot sleep at night if I’m not doing what’s best for my patients. It’s interesting that it has come up because I think I can speak for anyone in our shoes that it may be a sensitive issue– I always worried that my colleagues or my patients would assume that I was mediocre at what I did. Yes, I made mistakes along the way, but I think I was good at what I did. I guess it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, but being human that’s hard to let go.

      I’m laughing because as you mentioned in your other comment, I knew some blissfully happy dentists that were so clued out– they left decay, deliberately and regularly seated crowns with open contacts or completely out of occlusion, and cut a lot of corners in their work. They were super successful, but they really didn’t care about consequences for their patients. I sometimes thought that they were so happy in the field because they were so delusional about the quality of their work and just didn’t care about accountability or outcomes. I guess it just goes to show that very case is so different and full of shades of gray.

  12. Lolabees,
    I think you and I have something in common that could explain why both of feel the way we do about dentistry. We are perfectionists and we worry about how others perceive us. We also have a conscience that won’t allow us to sleep at night if something does not go right. This type of personality can make practicing dentistry extremely stressful. I have come to realize that is probably the root of why I am unhappy. I don’t seem to have the ability to put things into perspective and I take everything to heart. I get upset when things don’t go perfectly or when I make a mistake I tend to dwell on it. When a patient is unhappy (no matter how irrational the person may be) it just ruins my day. When I do a procdure and the outcome is not what I was hoping I get very upset with myself. I used to take a long time to do procedures at the beginning of my career because I wanted everything perfect. In order to keep a schedule and to make a profit I have to work faster and sometimes I feel as though I could have done a better job. I have had to suffice for “good enough” at times which in reality is totally acceptable but I still don’t feel that way. Over the years I have tried to put a wall up to those feelings and accept that things are never going to be perfect and that you will always have to deal with the occasional mean patient. However, in trying to live in this denial, I tend to get depressed because I feel like I am not being true to myself. Dentistry is a stressful career and I think a person needs to have the right personality type to deal with the stress that it brings. I applaud those that are able to let things roll off their backs, fix their mistakes without dwelling on them and let the mean patients go somewhere else without giving them a second thought. You need a thick skin for this career and even though I have tried to obtain one, I have remained unsuccessful in my attempts to do so. I am not sure I will ever be able to either and this is why I am unhappy. So for all of you contemplating a career in dentistry-make sure you have the stomach to take it because you will be in for a stressful ride (unless of course you can the blissfully happy type that does bad work and doesn’t seem to notice or care??) lol!!

    1. You have described my feelings exactly. I’m actually amazed by that. I wonder how many out there feel those same things. I mean, it’s one thing to not like it, but to feel tortured by it everyday is a different story. I always felt like it was a curse. I worked very hard (with some therapy) to ditch that need to be perfect and learned some techniques that helped me manage that while sitting at the chair. I used to feel tortured by the fact that I cared too much. If only I could have been delusional like some of those hacks out there… haha! Oh, the drama! 😉

      1. After 14 years of dentistry I can related to this! Sleepless nights about the tiniest thing that happened during the previous day! Or about a procedure the following day!… There are some things that just don’t get better! But it was far worse when I did implant surgery, life is much better after I gave those up!

  13. Yes dentist who dont care are more happy. I know an almost blind one who does a lot of surgery with extended flaps and bone drilling for easy access. Send stuff to the cheapest laboratory. He is a good person, and seems to love dentistry, he does a lot of charity work, and free work for people he knows too.

    Emphaty in dentistry is a bad thing to have because you suffer with the patient.

    Orthos are happy too cuz they just put braces, and see happy patients. I sometimes wish I was a orthodontist. But the investment to become one is too big.

    1. I agree with you, but I do think some level of empathy is good to have. Patients can sense it, and they appreciate it. As long as it allows you to care about what you do, but not drag you down with patients, a little bit is good. For me, it was exactly as you say– I suffered with the patient.

      I’d love to hear from some orthos. It seems like most love it, but I bet there are some major challenges too. No shots though!! 😉

      1. I do love your articles and courage to really pursue what you want out of life! EVEN after all of the dental training. Yes… dentists are a “clan” of people that eat their own – so to speak- if someone goes a stray. I was very unhappy with General dentistry so I worked hard and went into Orthodontics….hate to say it, but not that much happier doing this. I mean… who gives up the “golden ticket” of ortho??? I don’t have a traditional practice (I’m military) so I literally do every step for every patient …. not to mention most of my patients are transfers that some one else started and I don’t agree with brackets or tx plans…That’s what I’m going thru… my entire life has been devoted to dentistry… I stared out as a dental assistant in the military at 17 years of age… So, I’m constantly trying to find my niche while utilizing my education. I’m am so proud of you and your courage.

  14. YEAH ! Finally found some common ground. It was refreshing to find this blog after feeling for so many years that something must be wrong with you for not loving your profession anymore. All of lolabees statements/ lists have been pretty spot on, at least as far as I am concerned. I think we are all entitled to our beliefs and I applaud all of the dentists out there that truly love their job. I think dentistry is still a noble profession, it’s just not for me anymore. For me, it wears and tears on my soul. I have always been a perfectionist, but with dentistry I don’t like feeling like an imperfect perfectionist. I still love caring for people, I just want to do it in some other capacity. I have been practicing for 19 years, still put a smile on my face and do the best I can everyday and I make sure my team members do the same. I have never been motivated by money and will accept less in a different career if need be. Just planning right now and have plans to talk with a career counselor on what options I may have. 3 years ago I was accepted into school again to obtain a degree in counseling, but proved to be too much school work on top of trying to practice full time and running a business, so I quit. Just venting here and enjoying reading everyone’s comments and viewpoints.

    1. Hi LandsEnd, I can relate to everything you say. I’ve realized that while its important that I try to overcome my perfectionism, it just means that my personality is not cut out for something like dentistry– it’s too hard on my psyche. Wow, 19 years! Sounds like the perfect time for a career change. Congrats to you for making the decision and taking the steps to move forward. Thanks for your thoughts. I’d love to hear how you make your changes when the time comes.

      1. Hi,
        I’ll let you know how it goes. I printed off your ” Your dentist probably hates you too list ” and gave to my team. All we could do was laugh because we know it’s true. There are days when all of those things happen in one day, believe it or not. Looking forward to reading more of your story. Have a good one.

    2. LandsEnd,
      Well said!!
      As you have discovered you are not alone in how you feel. I feel the same way you do-I care and will continue to do a good job but dentistry has just worn me down. Glad you are taking steps towards another career. Keep us posted in how you do. I hope to be there someday too when I find what it is that I really want to do. One thing that I have learned by reading and commenting on this blog is that you need the right personality for dentistry or this career will suck you dry and make you miserable. Thanks again Lolabees for this blog. You are helping us vent and it is so nice to know that we are not alone in how we feel.

      1. Hi blue heron,

        You are right about the personality aspect. I questioned my choices when I first started dental school. All professions have stress, I just want some different stress. I am a firm believer in career change. Just because something was good for you in your 20’s, doesn’t mean it is suited for you later in life. I had a patient a few weeks ago, she has been an attorney for about 5 years. I asked her if she still enjoys what she does, she looked at me funny for a second and then point blank said ” I hate it “. She said she was just following the masses and regrets it now. When I told my family that I was going to school to get a counseling degree and eventually quit dentistry you would have thought that I just murdered someone, lol ! They just couldn’t believe I would throw a career, education, etc.. away. So I think they were relieved when I quit. We only have one life to live, I wish I would have done my career change sooner, but it’s never too late. I’m looking forward to hearing more of your story. Take care.

        1. LandsEnd,
          I completely agree with your comment “Just because something was good for you in your 20′s, doesn’t mean it is suited for you later in life.” As someone who is now in their (ahem) 40’s I feel totally different about my career than I did in my 20’s as well. I was just thinking about that the other day and questioning why a decision I made so long ago now has to follow me forever. It’s like I committed a crime and now I am doing a life sentence!! (ok maybe that’s a little drastic but you get my point). Yes, my family would fall over too if I told them I was quitting. I have told them I am unhappy but I don’t think they realize how truly unhappy I am. For people considering a career in dentistry they really have to be committed for the long haul if they are going to put themselves into big student loan debt to do it. That is one of the things that has forced me to stay in this career. I had to pay back my loans so I really had no choice. After 15 years I am almost done paying them off so there is now a light at the end of the tunnel and it could be why I am finally admitting to myself that this is no longer for me. It is a shame that student loan debt can keep you trapped in a career that is no longer for you. Not to mention if you own a practice you will have a practice loan as well. The debt you have to put yourself in for this career can be daunting and there is no guarantee of success or happiness either. It only adds to the stress and makes it difficult to make a change. On the flip side though, like you said, it is never too late to make a change and I wish you lots of luck. Maybe the change will be that much sweeter because we have waited so long…

  15. The other day I was reading a Marketing lecture in which they deconstructed every professional in order to sell them stuff, kind of like “know what you are dealing with”, and the dentist caracter was basically formed around how dentist resent their job and type of work. We know what we are going to do on tuesday at 10 o clock In which patient and what teeth. And how dental school almost sucked the life out of us. And how dentist have higth suicide rates. So what to sell to dentist, financial freedom stuff. Enougth financial freedom to quit dentistry. Funny.

    1. Ooh, I’d love to read that if you have a link to it. That’s too funny! I spent my first and only 10 years saving for retirement and paying off loans– no joke! 🙂 It’s actually kind of sad, isn’t it?

      1. It was a printed lecture a patient was reading, I got interested and skim through it. The funny part is that its not just a few that are not really happy with the career, and that some scammer guy knows about it and teach it to others, but its basic stuff too, he wrote the similar stuff about other professions and groups of people. How to feed lawyer egos and how phisicians think they are gods. If I get to see the guy again I will ask for the name of the lecture and who wrotte it if you want. But its no really that good.

  16. Hi LolaBees, came here via Dinktography looking for the soup with broccoli! , and having had mega dental work over the past year got sucked into reading about dentists! As I’m in Uk I am not sure our dentists end up so bogged down in debt and misery, but anyway my lovely dentist seems quite happy so will keep my fingers crossed for her! Great blog, fab to find such interesting things to read, now off to find the soup! 🙂

    1. Hi Fragglerocking, thanks for coming on over! The soup was actually a roasted squash soup, and it is delicious and healthy! Here is the link: https://idealdiet.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/roasted-kabocha-squash-soup/

      Your dentist probably is happy, and I’m glad to hear she is lovely. I’ve heard from some dentists over there, and there are a few that feel the stress. You’re definitely getting a glimpse of the ones here in the US that are unhappy in the field. Many of the ones that love it just haven’t gravitated to this blog… understandably so. 😉

  17. I stumbled on your blog last year and recently returned to see what became of the person that left dentistry. The discussion here is very much like the ones I have with friends who are close enough not to feel peer pressure to profess how wonderful it is being a dentist. If I (or any other dentist) were to say they wanted to quit in the company of people who weren’t friends they would look at us like we had grown an extra nose on our forehead. In more comfortable environments, among people that we aren’t trying to impress, most of us say the same things-it’s a good way to make a comfortable living but IT IS A GRIND THAT WEARS ON YOUR SOUL. Anyway, after 25 years practicing, I am selling my practice and jumping off of the proverbial cliff to perhaps some new career. Reading your story (and the others here) confirms to me that it’s the correct decision, which I guess I’ve known for quite some time now. As someone mentioned above, the decision of a twenty-year-old should not dictate the rest of your life. Dentistry has provided a life that I could only dream of as a kid but I’ve been very unhappy working ten inches from people’s (very sensitive, often dirty, smelly and bloody) mouths for the last several years. Congratulations for doing the soul searching and preparation that it took to get out when you did-it took me another 15 years. Kids, a house, practice loans etc. all need to be paid for with real money that requires a tremendous number of teeth to be fixed before the balance sheet goes into the black. When I have discussions with dental students (I work part-time at a dental school) I try to emphasize that point-it’s very easy to see it almost as “play” money. A few extra loans, a lexus, a cerec machine, a McMansion etc. and your in it for life- even if you decide it’s not for you at 40. Anyway, a good discussion for anyone considering dentistry or anyone considering going on to something else. Thank you and good luck.

    1. I’m glad you decided to come back! Wow, 25 years! Kudos to you for surviving that long. 😉 I think it’s great that you are now in a place that you can move on, and it just goes to show that it’s never too late. When I felt so trapped, I always felt so bad for the main breadwinner with kids who was unhappy in their career (much like Blue Heron.) Because if I felt so trapped, I could only imagine how trapped they felt!

      It’s slightly sad that people have to keep up these fronts, hiding any true negative feelings about dentistry with their colleagues. (Though I understand why and it’s probably best that way.) It almost makes us all phony with each other. I wrote about that in a recent post– I never felt like I connected with most dentists I met at CE events, but when I went to a CE dinner after I “came out” and was honest about my feelings, a few came out of the woodwork and opened up to me. It was days after I “retired.” We then proceeded to have very real, fun, and interesting conversations about all sorts of things. That was a very memorable moment for me. It’s nice that you have close enough friends that can share this with each other.

      Good luck, and keep us posted on what you decide to do, when it happens, and how you like the changes! Just curious… do you have any idea what you will do next?

      1. I am currently in the midst of application season and I am awaiting decisions from a few dental schools in the Midwest. But lately I have been getting cold feet about my decision precisely because of the reason you have articulated so well in this blog. I have spent a number of years in the legal field, but it has been mentally taxing. I decided to make the switch to dental and have done a post-bacc to complete the required science courses. For the last few years I have shadowed a number of dentists and also briefly worked as a dental assistant. But I have been having my doubts about whether this would be a good fit for my personality. These doubts have plagued me long before I had even come across your blog. My mother recently admitted to me that she did not believe this was a proper fit for me. She said that I had too much empathy and was too much of a perfectionist and this would end up taking a heavy psychological toll on me. (Funny how traits such as perfectionism are lauded as key to the dental profession, only to be the ones that “do you in” in the long run.) Only one other dentist I worked with was ever truthful about her situation. She was deeply in debt from her dental school days, to the tune of over 300k in student loans, she felt that most of her work went by underappreciated. She admitted to me she worried to much and cared too much. Her dental hygienist was trying to help learn to “care less” because it was becoming so mentally taxing. Your article has really prompted an introspection, and hopefully I will be able to figure out what it is I am meant to do and hopefully love and enjoy it.

        Many thanks!

    2. Great story. I fully understand why you’re leaving the dental profession for happier times. I’m now starting my 2nd dental office. Sold my other one after almost 25 years. In my new world of dentistry, I’ve learned that this time around I’m keeping it simple. Only 3 operatories PERIOD. I’ve also dropped accepting dental insurance and working only on patients that pay me in full upfront (with a discount). Things are so less stressful than when I ran a large 6 operatory practice by myself highly driven by insurance. Dental insurance does not work. You get screwed financially and you will have a revolving door of patients that come in pleased and leave months later mad because the insurance didn’t pay like they thought it should and that you, the dentist, should accept the loss. Nope. Not going to happen to me this time. If you are starting up fresh, don’t accept insurance. It might take a little longer to get a good monthly goal met but you will have a happier career in dentistry getting that pink elephant out of the room (insurance).

  18. EmeraldDiscus,
    Best of luck. Tell us what you ultimately end up doing because I have a feeling that like you, I won’t be getting out for another 10 years (which will be 25 years in practice for me by then). I always wanted to go into teaching at a dental school but the closest school is a long commute from where I live. I am glad you are educating today’s dental students about what life is like in the real world. They seem to forget to tell us about that in the “ivory tower” of dental school. They just sat us down one day at the end of our senior year and told us how much money per month we could expect to pay for the next 20 or more years on our student loans. That was the only reality check I ever got. I also get sick of going to continuing education courses or meetings with other dentists and have to listen to everyone puff out their chests and talk about how “great” things are. Clearly many dentists can’t or won’t admit that maybe this career isn’t so great after all. I have yet to find any other colleagues I can really talk to about this-that is why I vent on this blog (thanks again Lolabees).

  19. Continuing education sucks, in the cult analogy its like a mass, you get to hear stuff you already know or should know by people who are already quitting and thats their bussiness.

    1. I think it’s good to know the realities of what you are in for when you choose dentistry. Then you can have realistic expectations and not be so blindsided when you face some of the challenges we face. That’s not to say that you won’t enjoy the profession. There are many people out there who LOVE being dentists, despite the challenges. I guess you could say we were doomed. It just wasn’t right for me, and some bad experiences made it even worse.

  20. Absolutely love your site. After 15 years as a general dentist I identify 100% with your sentiments. I pride myself on being warm, reassuring, gentle & always charged people fairly for their treatment. The permanent panic of failing to deliver perfect, excellent care to every single person added to the sickening worry that one day the authorities may investigate something or other and that I’d be struck off…perfectionism, too much responsibility, too caring, too ethical…struggled to put brave face on each day but did it as it was vital to be tiptop fresh & superb for every single patient who came in the door. I always kept up to date with new procedures and was extremely competent. A lot of swagger and BS displayed by other dentists who were less kind/less technically expert made me even more upset…anyway. Said goodbye to teeth (thankfully not my own) last year but still hunting for plan B. Wishing you every success in your new life!

    1. I know exactly how you feel Flosstastic. Perfectionist personalities like ours and Lolabees and many of the others on here seem to be the main culprit in our unhappiness with a career in dentistry. Years ago, I had one patient tell me that he felt my job (being a dentist) was hard because I had to be “front and center” everyday. The more I thought about what he said, the more I realized he was absolutely right. Everything you say and do is scrutinized. You have to be on your A game every second of everyday. You are not allowed to have an “off day” in dentistry because that could be a real disaster. I have had patients leave me based on something I said that they took the wrong way or when I have done a procedure and something doesn’t work out perfectly even though I have seen them 100 other times and everything else has gone great. I just had an issue with one of my staff members the other day too (long story) and I usually never have issues with them. Now I have to deal with the stress of smoothing over that situation too. I am tired to being on stage and expected to perform a certain way for everyone all the time. I would love to just sit behind a computer and not be bothered. The constant interruptions also get to me. The hygienist needs and exam, someone has an emergency that has to be seen right away, the oral surgeon has one of your patients in the chair and needs to talk to you right now-all while I am trying to prep a bridge on a patient who is a pain to work on!!! How can I do a good job with all the crap going on around me? Based on the number of years you practiced, you must be around my age. I would love to hear how you got out. Are you currently working at another job until you figure out Plan B? I can’t just quit and walk away or I would. There was a powerball winner today not too far from my home. Too bad it wasn’t me-lol!!

      1. Making you a virtual cup of tea as I type, Blue Heron. The force needed to handle the demands of the daily grind (no pun intended) is huge. Added to that, we are unable to admit to being swamped as it reflects so much on perception of our capacity to do our job. I was so relieved to stumble across this site and realise others share the same
        feelings. My escape however is not all rosy. My husband’s new job in a new country gave me the chance to break free from Dentistry. I initially intended to register as a hygenist -OK not a clean break but familiar enough to allow me to apply some skills but less concern over huge, costly advanced restorative headaches. Well. My Plan B went down the toilet as I learned it is not possible to work here as a hygenist (another crazy weirdness to add to the cultureshock). So. Gladly thought about admin work in an office somewhere…just to earn enough to keep the wolf from the door. Again easier said than done. Despite all the experience I have in record-keeping, appointment scheduling, ordering, etc. this has proved impossible so far. Moments have been very dark indeed…not at all rosy.

        My advice is to stick to the day job for a while but if possible reduce your hours: take a day or two per week to retrain or gain experience in a different field. Going cold turkey and naively expecting to land a job easily with no inome was stupid. You live and learn. But you only get one shot at the live bit so make it the best you can. There is a lot of life outside Dentistry and if you have given it a very good shot use it to your advantage and see it as your helping hand towards your next phase. I wish I had. Hey ho. Onwards and upwards…

        1. Thank you for the tea and advice Flosstastic. I am pouring some virtual wine for us right now. 🙂 I actually have reduced my hours-I am very fortunate to have a great partner that I brought into the practice that I work with so I am able to work less than I did before. Before that, I was by myself and totally swamped (but like you could not admit that to anyone for fear of the perception that I could not do my job). That saved me in more ways than one because I was so depressed that I was at weekly therapy sessions. With my newfound extra time I devote it to being there for my children and attempting to come up with a Plan B. So far, no Plan B has emerged but I certainly don’t miss working as much as I was and will never go back to that schedule again. I am not able to share my feelings with many people that is why I am a follower of this blog. My own partner has no idea how I really feel about dentistry. My partner is truly a happy dentist and in a way I am jealous-I wish I could have felt the same way. In trying to figure out why my partner is a happy dentist and I am not I have concluded that it is due to differing personality types. My partner can totally roll with the punches while I let the punches knock me out. Outwardly I try to look like I can handle it but on the inside, dentistry has worn away my soul.

    1. Thanks, Flosstastic! Very well said. Looks like we had a lot of similarities in how we practiced. I know it’s just a small comment, but your writing style is really engaging. Have you ever thought about doing something that involves that? It might not have to be the next career/job, but somehow it may help you discover what that is. You could start out by writing a guest post here about how you got away from all those teeth, how your experience was in practice, how it is now??? (No pressure… only if it interests you.) Congrats to you for making the switch!

      As far as a plan B, what has worked for me is trying to have fun along the way in order to relieve the pressure and stress of the unknown. It’s amazing how that attitude makes me more excited about the future vs. more fearful. While I am working on starting and growing my weight loss business, which I enjoy, I am also dabbling in other things. It makes me feel a little more free knowing that there might also be other things out there for my future. So while I have a plan B, I sometimes think I don’t really have a plan at all. Do you want to work with people? Do you want to stay in health care? Have you ever thought of working with a career coach? I did all of my sessions with mine over the phone, and she was amazing! Let me know if you’d like her contact info.

      I wish you lots of luck! I’m dying to hear your story…

  21. Lolabees, thank you for your kind vote of confidence… The past year has been difficult. Like navigating out of a labyrinth in the dark. Lots of dead ends. Usually I am creative, resourceful, with a big reserve of oomph to get on with whatever is in my way but I was ill-prepared for the reality of my new life. The red tape in my new country & competition for straightforward roles was a big shock for me. Straight through school, never rejected at interviews, great references, held very good working relationships everywhere, always needed and respected…anyway. I am praying for a job in a school to help fit around the demands of motherhood (which I found difficult as a dentist). Secretly I’d love to organise people’s homes but there is no way to earn a living here doing that. I have two kidneys which as far as I know are in good shape… If I’m totally stuck…

    So glad to have happened on your site. It has validated how I felt about my career before. I know times are hard everywhere with a global recession…I know the grass isn’t always greener…but it is great to be free of the dread in the pit of my stomach and to have to go grocery shopping in the wee small hours to dodge potential patients complaining about that abscess they insist I gave them! Thanks again for your honest & open account of our bizarre trade.

    1. There is nothing like being “free of the dread in the pit of my stomach”. I am thankful for that freedom everyday. I cannot describe how the change has made me feel like a new person… or actually like who I really am. The other me (the miserable, unhappy dentist me) isn’t who I was. I see it is the same for you.

      It sounds like you are at least moving in the right direction to find your new path, and by your description of yourself, I have a feeling you are not far off.

      I wish you lots of luck, and remember, the offer to write a guest post for me about your experience of leaving the career still stands!

  22. I spent awhile in Barbados. I was asked by a dentist there to come into the office and help his staff – we had a mutual friend in Canada he went to school with. There was a real lack of organization, morale and a potential for receivership. I spent a month working there, trying to restructure and retrain staff. Turns out it was the dentist himself who was burned out. He had a ‘drill-em & bill-em’ mentality because he needed the cash-flow and worried he had no other skills.

    He would sneak away all the time and I would be in charge of explaining to patients whose anesthetic wore off and had to get ‘re-stuck’ as they said it. There came a point when he advised I re-administer myself which I was not licensed to do, so didn’t of course. He had a back door in his office and would disappear for hours with a patient in a chair. When I finally brought this to his attention, that his staff was fine and he needed a career change, he was not a happy camper.

    I guess the moral is his frustration affected his patients and his staff. It was a very sad catch 22.

    1. Wow! This is one of the worst stories I have heard. How horrible to leave patients in the chair for hours and then to put you in the awful position of having to clean up his mess. It’s very sad for all parties involved here. As with any business or organization, the attitude/spirit/morale/culture/etc… all comes from the top. If not only the message but also the actions coming from the top are negative, the business is doomed. It makes me wonder if there was something else going on with this guy in addition to burnout. I know a lot of people here who want out and I, myself, could never treat patients that way… no matter how much we hated working.

      I’m impressed that you had the courage to speak up to him, and I certainly hope he has found his bliss!

  23. I just read an interesting article today about bad financial decisions that people have made in their lives. I got to thinking that going into debt to be a dentist is a huge financial decision that is usually made by a young, naive, early twenty-something person (which was me) that can have lasting effects on the rest of that person’s life. This can be a good decision if you are happy with your career choice and end up being successful but this can turn out to be a bad financial decision if you end up realizing you don’t like your career but you are stuck because you invested way too much to get out. In the article I read one person invested a lot of money so he could sell real estate and it turned out that he actually hated real estate and realized that he wasn’t “wired” to be in that kind of business. This hit home with me when I realized that I don’t think I was “wired” to be a dentist and deal with the stress that this career brings. I guess the big question is how can someone know that before making the plunge? I thought I would be happy as a dentist but 15 years later, I am not. Maybe this is normal? Are there a lot of other people unhappy with their careers after a certain period of time? The issue is that it is not easy to get out. How would I have known this 20 years ago? I have more questions than answers but I am starting to think that maybe having more than one career is the track that more and more people will be taking. That being said, we need to be careful we don’t invest so much in one career that we can’t get out. Just some thoughts for the day.

    1. It’s definitely a risk, isn’t it? That was a huge marker for me as to whether I could get out or not. I paid off my student loans very aggressively, and once I was done, I really knew I could make the switch. Those are good questions about other careers. I bet it’s a similar level of dissatisfaction after many years, but many careers don’t put you into nearly as much debt. I would bet it’s still hard for those people to walk away– there are a million other excuses we can rely on. I know I did. 😉

      Funny you mention the idea of being invested in 1 career. I find that this is how I view it now. I sort of have my hand in a few pots… just in case. It’s like I am a career commitment-phobe now.

  24. Thank you so much for this post. I was a pre-dental student. Well, technically, I still am until the semester is over. I have always had this dream of becoming dentist since I was in high school. Reality check this semester: after extensive research and walking into my dentists dental office on a bad day (seeing the unhappy side to dentistry), I’ve decided that I could not see myself going down that path. Although it also made me realize that I wasn’t doing it for myself anymore but only to make my family happy. Thanks again, I will continue reading your posts.

    1. Glad you found this helpful, Mayra. I can only imagine what you witnessed that day in the office! 😀 It’s great that you’ve had the chance to make a well-informed decision about such a huge commitment. And it’s great to recognize who you were pursuing the career for. I hope you do stick around the blog and when you decide what to do, share your decision with us.

  25. Hey,
    i stumbled upon your blog and thought you might be able to help me out. I am going through a very weird phase. i planned to do dentistry a long way back because i liked biology and thought of medicine as really hard and long so i chose dentistry thinking that the studies will be less stressful and hectic. I was a good student in school but never the kind who sits alone in one room and studies everyday. I got admission in a dental college,( here in my country we do not require a bachelors degree beforehand) at first seeing the piles and piles of books i got reallly scared and cried everyday. For 2 3 weeks in the middle i tried to adjust but then again i started to get so stressed out, faced severe panic attacks, lost my sleep and appetite. My health was getting affected really badly. I wanted to push myself but i just wasn’t settling in. i worried my parents, my friends and family. After looking at myself and giving it a lot of thinking i decided to quit it and opt for nutrition instead because i think its lighter, health related and it interests me. Now i have stopped going to my dental school since almost a month. But at times i feel that my friends are doing it and later in life i don’t want to regret it. The clinical side of dentistry seems attractive but i can’t see a lot of flesh and gore :P. Majority of my friends and family says that its better for my health and personality to leave it, My counselor says the same but i keep on thinking about it, about the respect, the title and all the pros you mentioned.
    Any suggestions would be great
    Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Hibba,
      Keep in mind that my response to you might be a bit biased. However, I have the feeling that even the dentists that LOVE their careers in dentistry might agree with me on this one. It seems so clear to me that dentistry is not for you. If being in school gives you the feelings you describe (which seem unbearable,) than being out in practice will not be any easier. I think practice is harder and more stressful than school. It will not be easy or stress-free, and your personality sounds like a low-stress job is important to you. If you read the comments here, you will see that many just feel that they are not cut out for dentistry. Decide what it is that appeals to you about dentistry. Is it working with people in health care? You can certainly get that in the nutrition field. Is it the mechanics of fixing teeth and smiles? It sounds like you don’t like blood. Is it the respect and the supposed “freedom”? If it’s that, I personally don’t think that is enough to create a happy life. Also, I should add that there really is no freedom, and the respect isn’t always there. However, if you love many things about dentistry, then maybe it is worth working through the tough times. Don’t forget to read the cons on the list if you are as unsure as you are.

      It sounds like you have overcome the HARDEST part of making your decision. You have the support of your family, friends, and therapist in this decision you’ve made. They aren’t questioning your decision and pressuring to stay in because it is prestigious or important and will make them feel good. They have seen how you respond to it, and they believe this is best for you. You are lucky to have such a great support system.

      1. Hey,
        Thanks for the reply. Yes you are right i am really lucky to have such an amazing support system and to be getting a chance to opt for something else not many people do. I just like the clinical aspect of dentistry somewhat. The tools and the clinical setting attracted me. But i guess everything is not meant for everyone. If i look at it realistically the amount of stress i take and the way my health gets affected so badly even if i somehow push myself and try and do it with all these things i don’t think i will turn out as a good dentist and neither will my parents be happy in seeing me becoming one like this.
        A dentist of my friend told her that girls who are physically not that strong should not opt for dentistry because even extracting a teeth needs a lot of strength and right now dentistry was making me both physically and mentally drained, so i guess no point.
        I just hope i am making the right decision and i enjoy and excel in my new field.

  26. For a woman wanting to start a family and be able to be there for all the events and special moments, would a career in dental hygiene or cosmetic dentistry be better?

    1. I think it really depends on the person. I do think it’s possible to have a family and be a dentist, but you will see some commenters on here say the opposite. I don’t have kids, so I am not really the right person to answer that for you. Hygiene is definitely a lot less pressure and responsibility. Have you read some of the comments here? You’ll find a pretty good mix of opinions.

  27. Hi,
    Thank you for writing this blog, For many years i have thought i was some kind of dental ‘infidel’ denying the salvation provided by such a top profession. I only qualified in 2009 and really was pushed in to dentistry by my family/parents. I was given only two choices; medicine or dentistry, so i decided on dentistry because i did not want to pursue medicine. Now i feel trapped and i have no idea what to do. I must add that i am from the UK and work for the National Health Service (NHS) and the contract i work under is a complete joke. With this contract i have monthly targets to hit called Units of dental activity (UDA). If i don’t hit those targets i don’t get paid. So each time a patient comes in, i am forced to treat them in a very mechanistic fashion, as some kind of walking target. I see 25-30 patients a day and usually have only a maximum of 30 minutes in which to complete most treatment. Treatment is divided in to bands; Band 1 is an exam, scale, radiographs. Band 2 covers any fillings, extractions or root canals. And Band 3 is anything involving lab work. So if a high needs patient comes in with 10 cavities, i get paid the same amount as if a patient just needs 1 filling because it becomes a band 2 treatment. So for spending 2 hours on a difficult molar root canal i get paid the same as doing a small occlusal filling.

    I initially decided to do dentistry because i very naively wanted to “help people”, and being only 18 at the time i went to university, did not have much life experience to weight up the facts. So i came out of dental school and very quickly realised that what i had gotten my self in to was essentially a business; i am not a natural businessman, nor do i have any wish to run a business.

    We were given absolutely no teaching at university about how to manage a practice, run a business or manage finances; all of which i had to learn on the job. This was mostly learnt through experience of being ripped-off and exploited by unscrupulous bosses who saw their practices simply as cash-cows and their associates as slave labour.

    I don’t like the way dentistry is going because its turning from what was primarily a health-care profession to now becoming a commercialised industry, hell-bent on using aggressive marketing, advertising and manipulation to sell “extreme cosmetic makeovers”, cutting sound teeth to shreds for profit and business. I know i’m generalising and there are plenty of ethical, good dentists out there who are trying their best (i’d like to think i am one of those). I am just scared that after only qualifying in 2009, at the age of only 27, i utterly hate my life to the point of depression.

    One part of me wants to quit and just go with my dreams; my interests lie mostly within the arts, philosophy, music, writing etc. I would gladly take a cut in pay to life a more fulfilling life where i can actually feel at peace. However people around me are saying that i’m crazy, they say i should be glad that that i have a job in the recession where many people are unemployed and they say i am acting childish, idealistic and irrationally. They almost accuse me of being spoilt, as if i were contemplating abdicating a royal position for that of a commoner.

    I guess i am just at a cross-roads at the moment, contemplating a bleak future through the distorted lens of desperation. Who knows, the grass is always greener on the other side right?…

    Anyways i will end my ranting and rambling with thanks to you for providing people in similar situations to yourself and others here, with an outlet, a vessel for the venting of ones dental frustrations. In effect, you provide an example of possibilities, which evokes feelings of hope that there is a way out for those looking to cross the Rubicon.

    1. Hi deeps,
      It is so interesting to hear the realities of the dental care system over in the UK. I can’t imagine how challenging that would be to have to treat problems and not people. And not to mention this idea that working harder doesn’t result in more reward.

      We didn’t get any business training here in the US dental schools either. It definitely leads to challenges along the way, but somehow many seem to do ok in the end. The state of the field has changed a lot here over the years, but I think that is a result of the cultural and economic climate we live in. It’s just good to know that there still are a lot of docs doing the right thing. I hope that is also the case in the UK.

      As far as the fact that you “utterly hate [your] life to the point of depression,” your crossroads, bleak future, grass is always greener, etc… all I can say is I’ve been there. I was there for 10 years and part of the time I didn’t even realize how depressed or unhappy I actually was! I can tell you that after letting go of the pressure from family and friends, the guilt-trips, and the judgment, and then eventually the entire career (actually it went in the opposite order– I had to let go of the career before I could really let go of the expectations, guilt-trips, and judgment,) I finally feel happy again. For me the grass was definitely greener on the other side, even after I got there.

      Good luck! I hope you are able to find what makes you happy!

    2. Hi Deeps,

      You are still young and if I were you I would start planning a new career right now, especially if you need to go back to school. You need to realize that this is YOUR life, not your family or friends, YOURS !! Trust me, I have received the same feedback from some of my family and friends, they said I must be crazy, ” how could you just throw all your education, etc. away ? ” I have practiced for 19 years and am only now changing careers. Do I wish I would have done it sooner ? Sure, but I am ready now to start the second half of my life, learn and absorb new things. I would also suggest talking to a career counselor. I did and it was very helpful. I already knew what direction I wanted to go in, and after taking a few tests, my selection matched up with my interests and abilities. Dentistry did not even rank on the test results I was given ! Go figure, lol ! The only thing that is getting me through right now is knowing that I have a plan. So just know you are not alone and I hope you can make some decisions that will work for you. Take care.

  28. Hey I’m currently in college and was actually considering going into Dentistry afterwards. It seems very prestigious but alot of details arn’t available about it (dentistry) like many other fields. This is a great post to get that insight. Yes prestige and money are important, But some of those other factors you listed are more important for quality of life than the former. Whats the use of making money when you are miserable your entire life? It’s alot more desirable to make a desent living doing something you enjoy than “hating life” making a ton of money.

    1. I totally agree. It’s not worth making yourself miserable to have prestige and wealth. Do you think your generation has a better sense of that than some of the older generations had at your age? I’ve always thought my generation valued balance much more than our parents’ generation. They seemed to value working hard more than we do… not that one is better than the other, but just a theory.

  29. Hello,
    I feel I may be a bit young compared to the other commenters here but it’s okay. I just graduated from high school, and as I start college I am trying to figure out what career path I want to take. This post was very helpful in allowing me to see some cons to a profession in dentistry. My parents encourage me towards this career, but generally they are okay with whatever will make me happy. I know that this profession can offer a lot of stability later on ( given i make it through all the years required). I hope that i can get come more advice as I am just starting the journey. How did you start? What did you do during undergrad. Thanks so much.

    1. Hi Fizah,
      I’m glad to hear the post was helpful to you. If you haven’t, I’d read some of the comments too. They add more insight. I majored in Spanish in undergrad and took the pre-dental courses that I needed. It’s funny because I LOVED my Spanish classes as well as the language, but I didn’t know what I could do with that degree at the time. I guess I wasn’t very creative. Here are a few links that might answer some of your questions. If you have some time, I have written about my whole journey into and out of the field on the blog. You can search under the Career Change tab. I’d be happy to answer other questions for you. Good luck!

      Here is a start: https://lolabees.me/2011/12/12/why-dentistry/
      and
      https://lolabees.me/2011/12/19/is-hindsight-really-always-2020/

  30. Thank you so much for your advice! I recently graduated and was looking at what it would cost to start a practice and it’s absolutely insane! Just getting out of school I have so much already in loans to pay back but now also the loans it requires to start a practice?? it’s crazy!

    1. Congratulations, Tara! What an exciting and scary time all wrapped into one. I’m glad you found this helpful, and I do hope your experiences are more heavily weighted on the pro side of this list.

  31. Hi. I like your blog a lot I wish I ‘d have read it before. I am in 2nd years of dental school and I will not start my 3rd year. It is really exhausted and the meanest person you can ever meet are teaching dentistry here in my school. The good thing is my debt is not to big , just 33000K , hopefully I can pay it as soon as I find a job outside this jail. That’s how I have seen dental school since I started in this school. I haven’t had any problem with the test I had passed all of them without problem but I cannot tolerate the way faculties treat students and unfortunate the next two years in the clinic environment we have to deal with a lot of crazy old guys, some of them or most of them don’t even love teaching they are just getting a salary and making others suffers because I supposed they did suffer too to be dentists. Good luck to all of those who make it but I am done. My classmates say that I am taking the wrong decisions so any advices will be appreciated. Thanks!!!

    1. Hi Felix,
      Sorry I somehow missed your comment! It sounds like you know what is right for you. One day some of those classmates of yours will look back and commend you for your courage and foresight. 😉 Have you decided what to do next?

  32. Hi Lolabees,

    Thank you for your post. I am a math teacher considering a career change to dentistry. I read your entire page (article and comments), and it really stood out to me when you said that your tendencies to be perfect and to care too much might have been culprits of your dissatisfaction. In my own work experience, I relate to those two qualities very closely, and unfortunately they are two of my main reasons for considering dentistry. Yiikes.

    I was wondering—-have you ever taken the Myers-Briggs test (MBTI)? I know that it is neither a personality test nor a career-choosing test, but I am wondering if the feelings you experienced are related to certain traits that are tested on MBTI. If you haven’t taken it and you don’t mind sharing your result, here is a free version: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp My result was “INFJ” for Myers-Briggs.

    Anyway, thank you for your honest and informative blog. It gave me a good dosage of reality, something I really needed, especially for a career-changer like myself.

    Hope you have a great weekend!

    1. Hi Cali Girl,
      Thanks for the link. I’ll go check it out and get back to you on that. I’ll send you a private email with some insights after I take it. I’m glad you found the post. I agree. It might be one of the more honest posts discussing the pros and cons– and that’s a result of all of the opinions from dentists on here discussing some of the realities of dentistry. It’s great that you are really considering whether it’s right for you before jumping in. I’ll be in touch with you soon!

  33. Hello lolabees,
    I graduated with a degree in Journalism last year and am currently teaching English in South Korea as a means to travel and save money. My contract runs out in February and I want to come home and move on to the next step: my career.
    However, the more I understand about Journalism, the more concerned I am. Chaotic hours, stiff competition, questionable job security and poor pay are all things that seem to be connected with pursuing a career in that field. Even most entry level jobs are asking for years of experience, how am I supposed to get that?!
    Dentistry seems to offer the opposite in nearly every one of those categories. I love the idea that I can be my own boss, make good money, work reasonable hours, not worry about job security, and not have to live where the market is hot. But I am concerned that I would not be going in for the right reasons… the job itself. I am well-aware that there must be a certain amount of satisfaction and passion derived from the actual day-to-day work. It’s not something I feel as though I could know, one way or the other, until I jump in. And jumping into something so unknown like that is a scary thought. As you mention in your blog, shadowing doesn’t necessarily give you the big picture on things.
    I should also mention I would need to return to school for at least a year or so just getting pre-reqs in before dental school. Didn’t need much in the way of science or math classes to achieve a degree in journalism.
    Well anyways, I absolutely loved your post and it gave me the open-minded prospective I was looking for! If you have any advice for me it would be greatly appreciated! Thanks again!

    1. I find myself in a somewhat similar position. I finished my BA in communications in 2011 but I have not quite found my way as yet. I have been working in the mortgage industry so far but I have no passion or anything for that industry. With a tough economy I find that I need a career, something that can offer stability, security and a good lifestyle. I have been heavily considering dentistry but this blog has me thinking even more. I did read about the debt acquired from school but I would like some pointers about how to potentially avoid that. Does anyone know of any scholarships or programs?Has anyone used the NHSC and Military programs to pay for dental school? In addition, has anyone found that doing an advanced dental degree helps, was it worth the investment?
      If I were to do dentistry I would be taking a huge leap as I do not yet have the prerequisites and I see that it is a difficult career to get out of. I plan to volunteer in a dental office but the honesty that I see here is priceless and I really appreciate it. Thanks for everything.

      1. Hi SF,
        I don’t know of any scholarships, but the military does offer loans that require service after graduation. I think it’s usually the same amount of years of school they paid for. You can probably do a quick search on that and find a lot of info. In fact, probably the same with NHSC. I never did an advanced degree, so I don’t have any insight on that.

        Definitely be sure to spend some time in a dental office. Glad you found this post helpful! Good luck, and keep me posted on what you decide to do!

  34. Hi Dr Lolabees,

    I’ve read all your articles regarding dentistry and I COULD NOT AGREE MORE. I’m a dentist and I absolutely hate it for a number of reasons. Firstly, University doesn’t prepare you for the reality of dentistry, which is a soul-sucking, pride-swallowing, daily ritual of abuse at the hands of a typically greedy employer who wants to make himself richer off your back. Also, Dentistry is a cottage industry which has been overtaken by salesmanship dentists, those who sell treatments like a used car salesman sells a car, those dentists who are literally TRAINED in university (as I was) to believe that it’s OK to do the wrong thing by the patient (wrong treatment, poor treatment, UNNECESSARY treatment, et cetera), as long as you “communicate” it effectively/make them believe it’s their fault/bamboozle them into believing everything is fine. Dentistry is overrun by those who misuse the terms “bedside manner” and “interpersonal skills” and “good communication” and “rapport” to meaning a way to suck-up to your patient, manipulate your patient into following your desired path rather than their best path, and wring more dollars out of them. I’ve only worked for a couple of years now, and every boss/coworker I’ve ever had has been the phony-baloney salesman type, because this is what dentistry has become. It’s no longer about doing what NEEDS to be done, which is restoring the health and functionality of the dentition, rather it’s about screwing the patient out of the most money possible and making them content with that. Can you believe I’ve had senior dentists tell me in the past, for example, that I should be doing more root canals for patients, and that I “may be doing them a disservice in not doing more root canals”, while in a roundabout way pointing out to me that a simple filling for a decayed tooth, which restores the tooth conservatively and effectively, brings in LESS MONEY than a root canal (which would have been unnecessary for those patient cases anyway). But many dentists would be like “The patient won’t really know the difference anyway, just do the root canal and crown”. Huge conflict of interest here in this profession. Health for profit. Earnings take a front seat, patient care takes a back seat. How else is it that a patient can visit 10 different dentists and receive 10 wildly different treatment plans? I’ve even seen outright fraud and theft taking place in a number of practices, where dentists charge patients for treatments they didn’t do. A simple view of treatment records, combined with an intraoral inspection, proves it. One of my former bosses suggested to me casually that one of his dentists who was committing the fraud gets away with it (and naturally it’s fine with him because the boss keeps a cut of the gross earnings) since “he has a good rapport with his patients” LOL. There’s so much wrong with dentistry and I don’t blame you for leaving it, because that’s what I wish to do too. I mean, the work itself is not always bad (but often bad), although it can be extremely stressful at times, and most of the stress I find comes from the surroundings, not from the work I do with the patients themselves. The stress of swallowing my words, when I want to punch a dentist’s lights out for being a condescending jerk, while he’s skillfully screwing his patients out of their money, and I’m being chastised for not following his lead. It’s incredibly money driven, for a purported health profession. If you make money and sell stuff well, if you’re a smooth talker and a good bamboozler, dentistry is for you. The quality of your work is barely relevant, as I’ve been informed time and time again. If you want to do the “right” thing, work in a public hospital at significantly lower salary, in which case you may as well change professions and get a cushier job for the same salary. The system is messed up, the job is no walk in the park, and the dentists who make their stamp in this profession are almost all (but not all) putting the patient last. The work is tough enough as it is without people like that. Dentistry is hard work, and this makes it 1000 times harder. It’s just too much and the last straw for me

    1. Hi Jnn,

      Sounds like you have gotten mixed up with the wrong people! Those are some pretty bad stories, and maybe like you said it’s the surroundings. So maybe for you it’s not the career that is the problem but it’s the job (or a series of bad jobs)?? Just curious… are you in the UK? I only ask because I’ve noticed that English people say “firstly” and Americans don’t usually use that word (and you talk about public hospital.) Anyway, I understand that dentistry in the UK is somewhat dismal, and I was wondering if that’s what keeps you “mixed up” with these bad characters. If you are not from there, then ignore that! 😉 I have seen a few bad eggs along the way, but I always believed (and still do) that the majority of dentists have good intentions. It would be interesting to see how you like the career if you could be surrounded by others that are genuine and have the patients’ best interest in mind. Message me if you want. I have a few thoughts for you.

  35. I really would love to be a dentist…But reading these comments I’m so scared! I finally thought I picked a career I would love because I haven’t been able to find anything else I love but now i don’t know what to do :/

    1. Hi Emma,
      It still might be the right career for you. Plenty of people like and love it. They may not show up here on this blog because it’s just not an issue for them. One idea is to try to get a job as a dental assistant for a while to see if you like it and get an inside view of what a day in the office is really like!

  36. This blog is awesome—very helpful information. I’m currently a post-bacc pre-med student. While I initially wanted to go into medicine, I’m now seriously considering dentistry, which is a career path I’ve thought of pursuing for some time now. I just feel like all the doctors I’ve shadowed are at the beck-and-call of the hospitals for which they work–always being paged, always on call. While they say they wouldn’t “do it over” if given the choice, they all seem so harried and unhappy—as do the residents I interact with.

    I just feel like I’d be able to provide care as a dentist, but also have more autonomy than I would as a medical doctor. Also, the pay for both fields seems comparable–and that is an important factor for me given how much debt I will accrue. Plus, the idea of working with one bodily system–the mouth–seems more structured and manageable than an entire body.

    I’m really torn. I want to love what I do and feel fulfilled in my career, but I also want a good quality of life. I feel like the road to dentistry is less arduous and “soul-sucking” than the road to medicine. Is this inaccurate? I also like the idea that when you’re done with dental school you KNOW what you’re going to be doing (more or less), whereas when you’re done with med school, you’re then thrown into a lottery for residency, and you’re still not “really” a doctor for several more years. Also, MCAT vs. DAT? Eeek, so many conflicting feelings over here! These posts, though, have been very insightful for me to read! Thanks!

    1. Thanks! I’m so glad you found this helpful. I actually agree with everything you say. Those were all things that attracted me to dentistry over medicine too. I even convinced my friend in college to do dentistry instead of medicine. She was pre-med all the way, but changed gears and loves being an endodontist now.

      The only thing I will say is that while I think the road to dentistry (and the actual dentistry itself) seems “less arduous and ‘soul-sucking'” than medicine, it is still really arduous and has been “soul-sucking” for a lot of us. 😉 It’s not an easy road, and once you graduate it doesn’t magically get easier. They are both really challenging careers, and I just think it’s important to understand that going in. It sounds like you are at least started down a path that appeals to you. Good luck deciding! And who knows, if you go into dentistry and decide you want to be a physician, you can always become an oral surgeon and do both!

      1. Thank you for replying so quickly and thoughtfully! I am trying to find some shadowing right now in the dental field, so hopefully that will help with my decision! Thanks again!

  37. Hey lolabees,
    I always come across your blog when I’m googling whether or not dentists have any regrets. I’m a first year dental student now and I have to admit that your blog speaks to me because I’m seriously terrified of what I’ve gotten myself into. I’m an average student mostly because I don’t give a rat’s hat about the basic sciences we’re learning now for boards, and I can’t get motivated to study like I used to (Sure, in undergrad it was easy, because I wanted to get into a graduate program so bad!)

    My parents made me stay close to home – meaning I’m at a private university that averages about 90K a year. Mind you, I’m working two jobs in addition to going to school, so I’ve been able to cover some of my living costs. What gets to me is that I will be about 350K in debt after (IF) I graduate, and that is nothing to scoff at… I always thought I had it good because my undergrad was covered with scholarships. But this?! Jesus, I went from having no debt to having a crap load of debt. My parents are lower-middle-class and I’m not getting any help after I’m through with school, unless I miraculously meet my dream man in the next few years.

    So, the reason I went into dentistry in the first place is because of my braces. I had to fund them myself and there was nothing as rewarding as that first day when they came off, and I was 21 and smiling big and finally could have a normal conversation without covering my mouth! But now I’m realizing that it’s a long, long path if I want to do ortho, and more school, and honestly right now at 23 I really can’t imagine any more. It’s enough I’m going to be 26 when I graduate. Where will I get the time to actually live my life, you know?

    I wanted to be an author and write books. Or an English teacher. Those were my dreams since I was very young. When I had to watch my parents’ friends’ kids, we’d always play classroom and I’d teach them something I learned in school and then give them tests. Seriously. It sounds dorky now that I’m talking about it, but it’s the truth. I think the fact that I switched paths so suddenly – mid undergrad years – and now that I’m actually in school.. it’s really scary. I get so scared in class that my hands start sweating and I can’t even hold the damn tools right.

    I guess what I’m saying.. or what I’m trying to say and failing miserably at saying .. is this: was it really that bad? Did you really can’t stand it so much that you had to leave the field? I think I’m a pretty easy going girl, and for the most part I’m happy doing whatever, I love people and I love making them feel good. I’m just so scared now because I’m already 90K in and it feels like I’m trapped. I love the idea of being a dentist but I”m scared that I won’t make a good dentist at all, that I’ll never get a great job, that I’ll be in debt my whole life, that I betrayed myself by not following my dreams…

    Thanks again for your blog.. it’s a message most of need to hear.

    1. ghinwaj,

      It is funny that you mention being an English teacher because I always wanted to be one too. I enjoyed playing teacher as a kid and I love writing. I have also dreamed of being and author as well!! The issue with being an author is that there is no guaranteed income and the chances of becoming the next “best selling author” are probably not good. My mother (who was a teacher for 30 years) discouraged me from a teaching career due to the lack of income it provides. She was not wrong but as I have stated in my previous posts I have practiced dentistry for 15 years and I am no longer happy. I pursued dentistry for almost the same reason you did-I had braces as a teenager and was so happy with the results I became interested in a career in dentistry. I also felt it was a practical career that I could make a good income at. You can and most likely you WILL make a good income as a dentist and sadly even the bad ones make a good income too!! You also will definitely be paying a lot of money back towards your loans and that will be a burden for MANY years. I feel badly that your debt will be 350k, mine was 160k and I thought THAT was a lot. I am finally finished paying it off (15 years later!!) but I have to tell you that I hated having that debt and it does affect your lifestyle. You won’t be able to truly enjoy your real earning potential until it is paid off and that could be 20 years from now. That is an awful lot of dentistry you have to do to pay that off.

      You may regret not following your dreams but you have to figure out if the money is more important to you or not because there is a big difference in income between a dentist and a teacher. If you are easy going, you may do fine as a dentist especially if you have a thick skin and can take some of the crap that you will get from patients. As a teacher, you will get crap from parents and students too so although it seems like a nice career you have to put up with crap and get paid poorly too. Maybe teaching in a dental school part-time and working part-time in private practice may be for you. Also, being 90k in debt already you either have to stick it out and become a dentist or stop now before you accrue anymore. You don’t want to be making this decision in your 3rd year when you have accrued so much debt that you don’t have a choice so you will have to make it soon if you want to get out. You will have to do some serious soul searching to figure out what really makes you happy. I wish I could help you more but I thought I would give you my perspective on this since you and I seem to have common interests. Best of luck to you.

      1. Thanks so much for your reply Blue. I’m really, really on the fence. I have to ask, even with paying back your loans, were you able to live comfortably? I’m probably going to end up supporting my parents soon and the debt is concerned. In your 15 years of practice, did you ever fee like the loans were so crippling you couldn’t enjoy basics?
        Many thanks again for your input. It’s appreciated more than you know. Is this were all the prospective authors of the world go – into dentistry? 😉

        1. I was able to live comfortably ghinwaj but I also lived within my means and lived in a smaller home and had modest cars for 10 years until I was able to buy my own practice and make more money. I am also fortunate to have a husband who has a good career and makes a good salary so that helped immensely. He also did not have any school loans!! If you are the sole supporter of your family or have a spouse with a career that does not make a lot of money, it may be more difficult. Also, you may find it hard to live a decent lifestyle, pay back your loans AND support your parents if that’s what you are going to have to do. I did a quick loan calculator for you (you can easily do this online) for 350k in loans and I assumed a 5% interest rate and your monthly payment will be about $2300 a month for 20 years. That is like having a second mortgage payment in addition to your house. It really all depends on your situation when you graduate and what other expenses you may have. If you have a spouse making good money and you find a good practice of your own or as an associate where you can make a good salary you will be fine. However, if you are on your own you may have to live rather modestly for several years and focus on paying down the loans. You have to be careful how you manage your money and debt- you can’t assume you will own a million dollar home and drive your Mercedes out of the dental school parking lot the day you graduate. It is not easy but it can be done. In the meantime, start working on your book and write on the side-you never know. 🙂

    2. Hi ghinwaj,
      Thanks for reaching out. So funny– like you and Blue Heron, I went to dental school because I too wanted to share that excitement with people that I felt when I got my braces off. I always said that I went into dentistry because I wanted to make/help people smile– literally. It is so hard to tell someone else whether they will like it or not, but I think you ask some really great questions. I can speak for myself and probably a few others out there, but there are still plenty of dentists who truly love what they do.

      For me, yes, it was so bad that I had to get out. I describe my last 10 years in practice like I was under a low-grade depression. A few thoughts in response to some of your worries…
      -the first year of school is not at all what dentistry is like. You’re right– it’s all for boards. Have you shadowed some of the older students in clinic to see if that topic interests you? That might be a good way to see what really goes on.
      -Yikes! 350k is a lot of debt. I don’t know how people do it nowadays. Blue Heron gives some good insights about what life is like with a lot of debt. I agree that it is doable. The question I think you need to answer for yourself is, is it worth it?
      -I’m sure you will be a great dentist. If you’re worried about that, it’s probably a good sign. Yeah, some people have more natural “talent,” but you will practice it enough that if your heart is in it and you are ethical and care, you will be good at it.

      I agree with BH– if you can decide, the sooner the better b/c of the debt situation. I’m not one to make a rash decision, but sometimes you just know. And other times, you need more time. I recently heard from a first year student who was thinking about quitting, and then about a month later he emailed me saying he did! I have a few other posts about the topic that might interest you. If you want me to link them to you, send me an email, and I will do that. I’m also happy to answer any other questions you have. You should definitely keep writing though… maybe blogging is a good start??

      1. Thanks so much for your reply lolabees. I agree that shadowing in the clinic might be a good idea – I didn’t even think of that! So thank you 🙂 I have a feeling that if I can get over my nervousness and general fear, I’ll be comfortable working with patients. I was a secretary for the dental school during undergrad and I loved it, even on the bad days, because I knew I could get people access to care, and I liked having information that could help them – especially when they were in pain.

        So far, I dislike the attitude of some of my peers (many of them have trust funds to cover what they would have otherwise borrowed, and never fail to remind us). I dislike the useless facts we have to memorize for boards. And of course I dislike the crushing debt that hangs over us like a noose. Honestly if I were only graduating with 200K I feel like I would be on cloud nine, because dentistry – though it wasn’t choice number one – was high on my career list as an undergraduate. I’ve always felt comfortable being the one people come to for help. But this first year startled me. Everything got really intense really fast, and I started to wonder if I was even dentist material. I think about quitting everyday. If only it was in my nature to quit!

        Your answers as well as Blue’s answers have really helped me – thank you again 🙂 I think if I’m still having doubts by the end of this academic year, it’ll be time for me to reconsider my career choice. 90K is much more manageable than 350K, and I have my teaching license already so in theory, I could just jump back into the field I wanted to pursue. I’ll take your advice (and Blue’s) to heart, and write on 🙂

  38. ghinwaj,

    Nervousness and fear are totally normal when you first start to work on patients. I am sure you will get over that once you work on enough of them and become comfortable doing your procedures. It is tough to judge whether or not you will like dentistry from the first year of dental school as Lolabees says because you are only doing your science requirements and lab activities. Yes there are a lot of useless facts you will have to memorize but this is not what dentistry will be like. It is just something you have to go through. I found the 3rd and 4th years much more enjoyable because that is when you are in the clinic working on your patients and that is what you will be doing every day. I agree with Lolabees, shadow a student in the clinic and see if you can also shadow a dentist in his/her office to get an idea what life is really like as a dentist. I think it is a good idea to give it until the end of the academic year before you make a decision. In the meantime, learn as much as you can about what dentistry is really like from as many dentists as possible. As Lolabees says, don’t worry about being a bad dentist, if you care enough (which it sounds like you do) you will do a good job. You don’t need to be a sculptor or artist to be a good dentist. Practice makes perfect.

    As far as dealing with the “trust fund babies” and snobs in your class, just ignore them. They were in my class too. There are plenty of your classmates who have to take out loans just like you-in fact I am sure there are more people like you there than you realize. My family did not have the money and my father passed away prior to my attending dental school. I also had to take out loans for the entire time but I made it. You also will most likely never see any of these people again once you graduate (unless you want to) so if this is something you want to do, put your nose to the grindstone, do the best YOU can and forget about the others. It is a competitive environment but you don’t have to surround yourself with people like that who make you uncomfortable. That being said, I am sure there are people you will have things in common with in your class, I found them and I am sure you will too.

    Glad to hear you have a teaching license in case things don’t end up working out. As I stated already, you can be also dentist and teach too. I do plan to go into teaching someday because I know I will enjoy it. You should also keep writing and pursuing your passions even if they are just hobbies and not your career. That will keep you inspired along the way because dentistry is career and will be a big part of your life but it does not have to define YOU. Best of luck with your decision. 🙂

  39. This is my new favorite blog! (Yes, I’m an ex-dentist, too.) But my hope is that any college juniors/seniors who are contemplating this career will spend a few hours clicking through your site. I wish I would have had such a balanced resource for weighing my decision years ago. Alas, that was before the Internet age. You got out after 10 years. It took me 17, but better late than never, I say! Keep up the great work, doc!

    1. Rickzullo,

      Would you be willing share how you got out and what you are doing now? What were the things about dentistry that you disliked that finally made you decide to move on? Someday I would like to get out too but can’t right now.

      1. Hi Blue,
        Sure, I don’t mind sharing. So many have contributed here that it has really become a great forum for discussing this topic. Glad to see a few dental students here, too.

        As I said, I did it for 17 years (graduated in 1991). My school debt was “only” 50K, and I was able to pay it off in 7 years. Meanwhile, I bought a small home when prices were very low, lived modestly, and saved my money (in my mind, I guess I was always looking for a way out, probably since year 1 of dental school). But “life” happens and we put our dreams aside, right?

        In 2006 a large national dental corporation (I won’t mention the name, but they’re a good company) offered to buy our practice. The timing was just right, because a year later the economic crisis would have probably changed the deal and I wouldn’t have gotten the same price. But the deal required that I stay on as an employee for 2 years, which I did.

        Then in 2008, my commitment was satisfied, so I walked away. I took off for about 6 months….traveled to Europe for three months, came back and rented a condo on the beach where I read books and drank Mojitos every day for another three months. Believe it or not, it gets boring after a while…AND there was still the slightest doubt that maybe I should keep practicing. So I got a part-time job working for another dentist two days a week. Nice office, decent pay. I thought the 6 months away from the job would give me some clarity. And it did. After being back just a few weeks, I knew I wasn’t going to last. I stuck it out for a few months, but my heart was never in it.

        I really loved my time in Europe, especially Italy. The simplified version form this point is that I went to Rome, met a girl, got a job teaching English, and decided that’s what I wanted to do. Now I write a blog, write articles for other websites, write an occasional eBook, and now my wife and I are about to start a tour company. Do I make the same money as before? Not even close; not even 1/4. But while my “standard of living” is now lower, I would argue that my quality of life is much MUCH higher.

        So the big question is…do I regret it? Regret being a dentist? Not really. It brought me to where I am now, although there were some really tough years in there. I never liked it very much, but I worked with some great people and made a good living. Do i regret quitting? NO! In fact, I wish I would have done it ten years sooner, but like I just said, it brought me to where I am now, so I guess it worked out for me as a means to an end. But when I was practicing, I remember that not a single day went by when I didn’t ask myself, “How can I get out? And when?”

        If that’s where you’re at, then I would suggest you do it sooner rather than later. It’s scary, I know, because dentistry offers stability and financial security. But it isn’t worth your soul, in my opinion. Good luck!

        1. Thanks for sharing your story. It is a very interesting and I enjoyed reading about your escape from dentistry to a better life. I think it is inspiring to hear how others “got out” because it gives those of us who are thinking about it food for thought. 🙂

        2. Wow! I’m so glad you found the blog! Talk about living the dream. Your story is so inspiring, it just made my day to read it on so many levels, but mostly because I can relate to EVERYTHING you say! (BTW– I taught English in Spain for a year before starting dental school. I was terrible at it, but it was a great experience.) Anyway, so many people think they can’t make the changes, but it is possible. I love what you said about having a lower standard of living but that your quality of life is so much higher. I personally worried more about money when I had it than I do now when I make MUCH less. It was a state of mind, a fear about losing what I had, and a fear that I wouldn’t survive without it. Now that I see that I can survive (and much more happily) I worry less. That has been the greatest gift.

          I wish we could gather all of the retired, recovering, ex- dentists in the world and have 1 big bash to celebrate it! Maybe someday in Rome? 😉

  40. Im currently a 2nd year dental student and so far I’m in love with it! I did do a few things differently. To avoid the high cost of of dental school, I moved back to my birth country to do school. The program is only 5 years, but it is very intensive. The pros about this is that I will be getting done with school sooner and I wont have any student loans to pay off since the payments are less expensive. The downfall to that is that I will have to go through an international dental program at a university back home (USA) and still will end up with some type of student loan. Just not as high as it would be if I did stay home. 🙂 Even though dentistry has its cons, I feel like the Pros have a heavier weight.

    1. Thanks for joining the conversation. It’s great to hear both sides of the debate, and we need a little more pro representation here! Good luck, and keep up the good work.

  41. looks like the Pros outweigh the Cons! Maybe it was not the right fit for you! I am now entering the field at 33 years old and I am positive it is the best decision I have ever made. I tried everything in my power to get a job with my B.S. and M.S. in Chemistry and even served overseas in the Peace Corps just to come back to the U.S. and face 2 years of unemployment. I can’t wait to start dental school next year and plan on paying back my loans by working for the U.S. Army or doing the National Health Corps. I am just so thankful that a profession like this exists in which I can capitalize on my previous scholastic experiences instead of working minimum wage with a M.S. and living off of food stamps.

    1. It definitely was not the right fit for me, and I agree that it is a great fit for others. It may just be even better for you because you’ve experienced a different career first and have a better sense now of who you are and what you want from your life. Congrats and good luck in dental school!

  42. Great article outlining both the positives and negatives about being a dentist.
    I graduated in 1980, (when there were very few women in dentistry) and have been working 4 days a week since then, had 3 kids, barely took off any time after each birth, and I am still at it. Sometimes love it, sometimes would love to throw in the towel, but the bottom line is that I truly think I am well suited to do this job. I think that’s the key- are you doing work that you feel good about without causing too much internal stress and turmoil, or do you dread going to the office? Most of the time by the end of the day, although I am usually physically and mentally exhausted- I also feel a strong sense of accomplishment and take a lot of pride in the work that I performed. It’s so true about the physical demands and how important it is to stay in shape and keep your core and back strong. My advice to any new dentist starting out is to incorporate physical exercise into your lifestyle and daily routine.

    1. Thanks, Alyce. I love hearing stories like yours– people who actually love this career. I think you said it best in that you are “well suited to do this job.” It’s so great that you can close out a day feeling satisfied and accomplished. That is a sign of job satisfaction that I think is so important and that somehow was missing for me. I also agree– exercise is key!! And I also think good specialized earplugs to prevent hearing loss is important.

  43. This has been the most refreshing blog I have read in some time. Lolabees you are wonderful for starting up this conversation. I have been a dentist for 14 years and have been fearful of making a big change into something else. I have honestly NEVER been very happy with dentistry since I left school…. I have worked for those greedy dentists referenced above who only want to make money off you, I have worked for low pay in public health care clinics but was so overburdened by an inefficient staff due to lack of funding that the stress of everything was overwhelming (imagine being the dentist AND the hygienist doing both (and sometimes at the same hour?!! yes! and seeing over 40 patients personally a day….with only 2 hands..)… so I have never been the type of dentist to want to “chase the dollar” but even in my desire to try and help patients, have found the work to be so physically difficult, stressful, and frankly just not that rewarding…. then there was the family pressure to “stay in.” Why would I throw it all away? Even now I hear from my parents and some friends that “you have a special skill” that not many people have and you can make good money at it. Why give that up? The unemployment rate is staggering and you are thinking about giving up this lucrative, predictable career? The top career of 2013? You know how many people would love to work on teeth and make the money you are making?? ….. bad mistake. I have heard all of that. But then, why live with that decision you made when you were in your twenties, if you are unhappy now (in my case I’m in my 40’s). Why should we succumb to such external social pressures and feel bad about our own feelings of wanting to change? (Financial is a whole different story)…

    The thing about dentistry that is so unique is that it actually is a highly specialized profession with specific skills….and so dentists feel “locked in” in many cases (other than financial) because they are feeling as if they don’t have other skills they could use in another job, and who the heck would hire a “dentist” to be a banker (or whatever)?? There is the perception that future employers would think it crazy a dentist would “leave all that” and do something different. It’s as if the label of “dentist” sort of precludes dentists from thinking they can’t go to another career…at least that was the case with me…… Then dentists use the term “retired dentist” and certainly if you don’t know a future employer well or have met them personally they assume you are like 65 (not that anything is wrong with that)….but I’m not 65. I have 20+ more years of working life and figure I CAN make a change if I want and actually learn and grow from a new start!

    I write to encourage those dentists who aren’t satisfied, who can financially make the move, (although that is not easy for ANY dentist….) to take a brave step and decide to change CAREERS. Don’t just get another “job” in another area…pursue another CAREER. You are smart enough to have gotten through all of the rigors of dental school and practice, and you can apply that elsewhere. ALLOW yourself to be NEW again at a different career….to start at a lower salary to work your way up…. you can do it! I am TRYING to do it…..I’m not there yet but ALMOST! I am hoping for a new start soon and can certainly update as that happens.

    I often laugh during Christmas at the show Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer when the little elf Hermie is finding he is not set out to be an elf to make toys, all he wants to be is a “den–tist.” And he finds that he is a “misfit” for not fitting in…..when I am the opposite! I am the dentist who feels like a misfit for not enjoying the profession I should probably enjoy and make good money doing it.

    I am so happy to have found this blog and this discussion and look forward to reading future posts.

      1. I haven’t really made a firm decision yet but believe it or not I am thinking about teaching, but not dental school. However, I am going through all of the careers that I have ever wanted to do besides dentistry and narrowing them down to my favorites, and then further narrowing those to ones that are practical at this point in my life to switch to. I’d love to know what other dentists out there have switched to, if they have…or what they are thinking about. I once worked at an office where a locum tenens dentist came in a day a week and he was older, and he mentioned that he had quit dentistry after a few years of practice, had been an electrician for 30 years then came back to working part time dentistry in his retirement! Crazy but true.

        1. Momdentist- I have made many comments on this blog and I feel the same way you do. I am also a mom, have been practicing for over 15 years (so I am about the same age as you) and was never truly happy and fulfilled with dentistry either. The truly rewarding days are very few and far between and it is mostly just tiring, physical work on a lot of ungrateful folks who don’t appreciate your efforts to fix their teeth and don’t want to pay for it either!! Best of luck with the career change!! I am not ready to make the jump yet but I am inspired by reading about those that do.

        2. I love that you already sound like you’ve made the leap, so I have no doubt that you will do it! It’s all about exploring. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past few years, and it’s been more fun than I could have imagined. Now I’m a big believer in the idea that if you open up to the possibilities, the answer will find you. Looks like it will happen soon for you. Good luck and keep us posted. Blue Heron is going to do it too! It doesn’t matter how long it takes– we just can’t give up. Don’t know if you’ve seen these posts, but here are a few things that some of us are doing. I occasionally hear from others who have quit/retired/escaped and I’d love to hear more stories too.

          https://lolabees.me/2013/11/25/life-after-dentistry-yesit-is-as-good-as-it-seems/
          https://lolabees.me/2013/09/29/playin-the-field/
          https://lolabees.me/2013/10/07/my-plan-b-or-is-this-c/
          https://lolabees.me/2013/12/17/taking-an-unexpected-leap/

  44. Thank you Lolabees that was an excellent list of links of which I read each and every one. It is amazing to me that there are others out there who feel the same way as I do. I am so glad for your blog and your willingness to write and reach out and have others weigh in on their experiences! How therapeutic is that? For so many years I questioned myself as a person as to why I would even consider leaving such a reputable profession. Something must have been wrong with me, I thought. Patient after patient, treatment after treatment, stressful employers saying “drill more, make more money” (for the employer)…. I was measured by my “production” and not by the quality of the work or the patients that liked me and wanted to see me again. I never wanted to own my own practice beause in my experience those “owners” were actually very unhappy and had hired me to take off their own loads of misery! Some were financially very strapped and I felt sorry for them. One of them let me go as an associate right before Christmas (December 7) because they didn’t need an associate anymore (I was told “it’s not personal, it’s business”) and when I cashed in my final paycheck it bounced~!!

    Owning a practice seemed to me to be too much stress on top of all the patient stuff….imagine the practice financial obligations and stress compounded with patient issues (who also have financial issues) and what a circuitous torture ring….. I just couldn’t fathom it. Granted this is the worst description and does not hold for many practices! But I can only speak to what I have experienced and perhaps I have been unlucky and have a bad impression.

    I have always looked at other dentists with envy and thought “wow, they love this” and wondered why I didn’t.

    The “trap” is amazing….I remember my only hope for a while was the Jurassic Park writer Micheal Crichton who formerly was a doctor turned successful writer. I had thought, well if he can do it, so can I! But I never pursued a change because frankly change was JUST TOO HARD. It is just too hard to make a change. Too scary. Too much. Too weird, and what would others think?

    I have gotten to a point where I don’t care what other people think, and I think that was the biggest thing that set me free. The biggest thing. And the willingess to charter unchartered territory to get out of the “safe” but unhappy setting of dentistry.

    I was really interested in the post about dentistry as related to a “relationship”. So true! But this professional choice and relationship was not healthy for me, and frankly somewhat abusive! Just as in an abusive relationship, things are really great….and then things really, really suck and you are so upset….but you hold on…and then you wait and then things get better for awhile and sometimes are really great. Well, frankly….it shouldn’t be that way….not to say that all jobs don’t have their ups and downs, but in dentistry there is the added feeling of being “trapped’ and not being able to be set free….. once you can break those chains (aka Wilson Phillips) then you can really get out of all of those crazy ups and downs and see the light at the end of the tunnel….and do something that makes YOU happy!!! Take control!! I’m in the tunnel right now but I am very hopeful to get to the other side….and it is coming.

    1. Hi Momdentist,

      I wish you luck in your new career search. You are obviously not alone in your thoughts regarding dentistry. Just stick to a plan and forge ahead. I posted on here awhile back. I have been practicing almost 20 years and this month I am sending my applications in for a masters program. I want to work with the aging population. I tried to go back to school a few years ago, but quit. I am in full steam ahead mode and nervous, excited all at the same time. I own my own practice, but I am beyond burn out. I was never sure about dentistry when I was in school. As an associate I had experiences similar to you. I thought having my own practice would make me enjoy dentistry more. I thought if I just had the office just the way I wanted, keeping it small and stress free as possible I would like it more. It never worked for me. For everyone that has issues with being a dentist, I can’t really say anything profound because we all have the same thoughts. For everyone that loves being a dentist, more power to you and keep up the good work. I am over dentistry from all the business headaches and then top it off with the exhaustion of doing actual dentistry, I am burned out. I actually still like working with people, just sick of dentistry. Case in point: Had a 22 year old pt last week, # 18 DOL, small mouth, couldn’t open, asked for wider,he gave me 1mm, couldn’t tolerate the bite block, could barely get pedo size hand piece in there, couldn’t get a band to stay due to tooth/tissue height, couldn’t see, he was acting irritated and bothered. And I wonder why I hate dentistry, LOL !

  45. Good luck LandsEnd and that is great to hear! I am glad to see you venture out and I think going back to school would be a challenge but a POSITIVE one! because it will get you to where you need to be to do something else you enjoy. Positive thoughts your way! and thanks too for your supportive comments, as well as Blue Heron’s and Lolabees… I am thinking of returning to school, as well!

  46. Lolabees, i love your posts 🙂 I love reading about dentists and receiving insights into the intriguing job, after being a person who would have got sick at the thought of the dentist a few years ago. ( I know, I know!) See the phrase ‘Oh no, I dont go the dentist, I hate ‘the dentist” used to be of regular usage for me after having a tooth taken out without anaesthesia..but it was really my fault – I imagine it would be quite difficult for a dentist to inject a screaming five year old! But I can safely say that I now know its great what dentists too after finding a very nice practice,and now I love the dentist 🙂 currently sporting braces..eeeeek 😛 Anyways just saying I love your posts and well done for your time served as a dentists, from seeing patients come and go (and also my nervous self) I tip my hats off to dentists and former dentists. Also I admire you changing your career as I’m sure that was a difficult thing to do.

    Aishling 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Aishling! I’m glad to hear from you! I get to hear from a lot of dentists, but I don’t always hear from patients. It’s so great to hear that you have turned things around for yourself. I wonder what changed things? Was it a good experience with a specific dentist that helped? These are the best stories.

  47. Hi lolabees,
    First off, I really enjoyed reading this post. So thanks for sharing it. I was just recently accepted to USC’s DDS program (only school I’ve been accepted to so far). And I’m really doing some soul searching to figure out if I’m 100% commitited to going into 500,000 dollars of debt to practice dentistry the rest of my life. Is there any link that tells us exactly why you left dentistry? This would be very interesting to me… I’m trying to gain the biggest perspective that I can being that I haven’t found more than one dentist to shadow.
    Thank you very much,
    Bob.

    1. Hey Bob,
      Congrats on dental school! (I think??) 😉 You’ve certainly come to the right place. Glad you found the blog. The last year of blogging for me probably addresses a lot of your questions, but I’ll provide a few links here.
      https://lolabees.me/2013/07/15/is-dental-school-right-for-you/
      This one links back to a few more posts you might find helpful:
      https://lolabees.me/2012/08/30/its-not-you-its-me/
      https://lolabees.me/2012/01/28/can-a-fart-change-a-life/
      https://lolabees.me/2011/12/19/is-hindsight-really-always-2020/

      Hope this helps, and if you haven’t read the comments on this post, that might give you some insight also. It’s a little biased towards the downside of dentistry, but there is some positive stuff in there too.

  48. Bob again. Ok, I’m officially scared shitless reading through this comment section. It seems like the general concensus is that most dentists dislike it after a good 15 years. I mean, I know that might be jumping the gun but.. WOW. The only way to pay for USC is with the “income based repayment plan” which would forgive the debt after 25 years. 25 years! And most people on here want to quit after 15! Any advice for me? Thank you.
    Bob (USC class of 2018)

    1. Somehow I missed this latest reply from you. Oops, didn’t mean to scare you! Ha! Remember that you are reading comments from people who mostly have come to this site because they don’t like dentistry. There are a lot of happy dentists out there. You might want to check out Dr. Polansky’s blog. http://taoofdentistry.com/blog/ He’ll give you some good perspective. I know we are all different, but I paid down my loans in 10 years, so it is still possible to get out after 10. (Haha. J/K– don’t go in if you plan on quitting!) I wish I had other advice for you other than you have to dig deep and really follow your gut on this one. You’ll never really know until you are in the trenches, so you just have to listen to yourself.

  49. EX-PREDENTAL/ IVY-LEAGUE GRAD/CAREER-SWITCH/23yo/Male

    I am glad that I found your blog. Dentistry was my one and only obsession ever since high school, up to senior year in college. I worked so hard in my undergrad to build a “perfect” dental school application encompassing clinical research and even extended experience in the dental workforce as a dental practice management consultant, a dental assistant, and an assistant manager in both private and corporation practices. It took me about 8 years to accumulate that fast experience. What sparks my interest in dentistry is most of what you’ve listed in the Pros and Cons blog. I was interested by the autonomy, flexibility, unpredictability, and of course lifestyle. After several years of getting my hands “wet”, I can finally understand how naive I was when I first gained interest of the profession. I can see why dentistry is the most stressful and most likely profession to commit suicide due to continuous on-going stress factors related with the your OWN practice. Most pre-dents rake up numerous experience in becoming a good clinician and scientist, but not spending enough time developing their “aura”, personality, business philosophy and all things about running a business. I interviewed at many dental school and was accepted, however I deferred due to the financial circumstances. Coming from a lower end of the middle class family, I hoped to move up in society and that was my initial reason to pursue dentistry. When I received my acceptance, I was not happy or overjoyed, but felt worried about the impending grave of $300K deep that I have to shovel myself to get the chance to practice dentistry. Not only the initial $300K for the education, but also additional loans to start the practice, totalled at least $300k (student loans) + $300k (startup cost of a practice) = ~$600k. I just don’t think that was a smart choice, of being in debt, even before starting to work. People can reason the same way with medicine, but at least you don’t have to purchase your own machine, or fix your own light bulb in your office. All things considered, I am writing this as I extinguish my dreams and aspiration to become a dentist. I know it is unfortunate that I won’t be able to practice and improve the field of dentistry in the future, but I don’t think I would be viable and happy in the field. What I can conclude, if I can from my exp meeting successful dentists, is that they are very approachable, very bubbly, people person, and able to SELL, SELL, their services. Dentists are businessmen/women after all. I ended up choosing my future career as an anesthesiologist assistant, due to the limitation of liabilities, job stability, novelty, and growth in the field. Despite growing conflict with CRNA, I believe this field yields same earning power, yet even better, in less time compared to dentistry.

    Hey BOB, I also got acceptance from USC, but deferred the offer. Man, I could’ve been your classmate!

    1. That is impressive, Andy. You really did your research. I think that is actually a great approach for any pre-dental student. You were able to find out so much about the reality of the business before you were committed. I deferred my school acceptance too– looking back, it was definitely a sign that I was heading in the wrong direction, but I never followed that instinct. I bet you’ll do great in whatever field you choose!

    2. Your angels were looking out for you. You made a wise choice evading the profession of dentistry. The reward/risk ratio is extremely low and the stress is enormous. There is NEVER a day I can go home and feel that I’m settled in my career, that all I have to do is show up each day and make a decent living, NEVER. Right when you think you have it made, something/somebody will tear your life apart that you have no control over. Always remember that dentists are the most hated people in the common job market and being told you’re hated day in and day out really is mentally crippling. I actually think that there should be laws that would allow a dentist to prosecute a patient for saying that because in the real world, that patient might set that dentist off to commit suicide, or at least it plays a vital part in a future suicide. I never tell anyone in a public place that I’m a dentist so that I can avoid hearing all the “I hate dentists” crap.

  50. I am a dental hygienist and I am glad I found your site. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a dentist. When I went off to college I changed my major so many times I was getting behind! So, to hurry up and graduate on time (kind of), I chose dental hygiene. I chose dental hygiene because it was less of a risk financially for me. I am young, in my twenties, and I knew someday I wanted to be a mom and work part-time, If I took out loans to be a dentist I would be strapped for life! I also had a fear of taking out the loans for dental school and then not even graduating. Anyway, I’m not going to lie. I sometimes still think of becoming a dentist (for only one reason), for the respect. Isn’t this stupid? I worked my butt off in dental hygiene school. People don’t know, but hygiene pre-reqs and hygiene school is very difficult. I had absolutely no life when I was in school. I am a little upset that I spent 2 years doing pre-reqs, and then 2 years of hygiene school, to only earn an associates degree in dental hygiene. I just feel like my profession isn’t respected. I know I probably sound like a jerk but I’m just being honest. A lot of people don’t even know what a hygienist is, they just think I am an assistant (nothing wrong with being an assistant). It’s just I worked my butt off for four years to be recognized as an assistant? I do have to say that working in the dental field has really opened my eyes. Yes, some dental offices are like used car salesman. All they care about is profit and selling. Luckily, I have only encountered one office like this (this office made me hate my job and I dreaded going to work). In my new office I love my job but It does get stressful. I never knew I would have to be so upbeat and bubbly all the time. Even if you are having a bad day you have to slap on that smile and talk to your patient like you are having the best day ever. Also, peoples gums are very sensitive. I constantly have to use a topical anesthetic. You better make sure your patient doesn’t feel any pain or else they will NOT like you and you could lose your job from complaints. A few things I do like about my career are: I work part-time and still make a good living. I average about 45 an hour in a town of semi-low cost living. I view my income as “extra income” on top of my husbands income. I would never purchase a home on my income combined with my husbands because I want the choice of not working someday when I have kids. Oh yes, that brings me to another thing. As a hygienist working part-time I do not get any benefits. No paid vacation, no paid sick days, no medical, nothing. When I someday go on maternity leave I do not get any compensation. Just something to think about if you are thinking of going into hygiene. Hygiene so far has been a fantastic choice for me though. Another thing to think about is it is hard to find employment right now. The only positions available are for part-time (which is ok with me). If you want to work full time, it is extremely difficult to find that. Another thing to think about, hygiene is very physically demanding. Even being physically fit and active, I still go and see a massage therapist. On a side note, I am glad I read the comments from past dentists. I now have a new respect for my dentist. Now that I know my dentists job is probably way more stressful than mine, I will do anything to help shave some of that stress off. Dentists, is there anything as a hygienist I can do to help my doctor?

    1. Hey Melissa! Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I do think a lot of this list can carry over into hygiene. If it makes you feel any better, I often felt like I didn’t get much respect from certain patients, even as the dentist! 😉 I can remember a patient chasing me around our dental office trying to get her crown because she was so rude to me I refused to seat her crown for her. I do think there is a difference, though, in the way dentists are treated vs. the rest of the staff. I always found that to be so annoying. And sometimes it’s the dentists that aren’t very nice to their hygienists. Luckily you only had to be in one bad office. Sounds like you’ve found the pros and cons of hygiene… I guess we have them in any job. We just need to decide if one side outweighs the other. I think hygiene is a great career. Yeah, it comes with some negatives, but it is relatively low stress, great hours, good pay, and rewarding. I love to hear that you hope to help the dentists with some of their stress– that really is helpful to them. I hope they do the same for you in your office!

  51. For God’s sake, do NOT become a dentist. I have 25 years experience as a dentist and it will never pay off and you will never be happy. Your self-esteem will be destroyed, your marriage will be crushed, your self-worth will diminish and you will never get ahead. Once you realize you hate being a dentist, you’re trapped financially in and it is a miserable profession to be in, especially in these times. Forget making a good living in dentistry. Do ANYTHING but dentistry.

  52. Lolabees, this is a great post for prospective dentists and dental students. It’s absolutely paramount to know the risks and benefits of this profession.

    I do think some of these comments can be a little daunting, though. I have been practicing for several years and I still think, to this day, that I made a great decision. Like many of these commenters, my family was lower-middle class, and I had no financial help going in. My first year was terrible – I failed two courses, and even considered quitting while doing the remediation. I remember not having many friends in dental school and thinking about other professions (ANY PROFESSION!) everyday. Once I graduated, I found a good GPR in NY and started practicing soon after. The rest was history!

    Do you want to know the key to happiness – in this profession or in others? It’s your attitude. Mind over matter, always. Of course, JUST like any one else, dentists DO have bad days. I would be lying if I told you that I walk into the office beaming each morning. I have some pretty terrible patients that I would love to refer out – but I don’t. I do the best I can with what I have. I always smile. If I can’t smile, I think of a joke or something good that happened earlier. Trust me folks (especially you young prospective students), if you have a great attitude, you can be happy even as a garbage man.

    Also, think of the alternatives – my biggest alternative was teaching. If you think teeth are stressful, you have yet to stand in front of a classroom of kids or teens for an hour or two. THAT, my friends, was taxing as well! I loved the concept of teaching and will probably return to my alma mater to teach dentistry, but I doubt I will do that full time either. Stress is literally everywhere in our first world. We stress over whether to buy organic or not, whether to send the kids to private schools or not, where to go for dinner, what to do about a pesky neighbor or in-law … the list is endless. Take 30 mins out of each day, meditate, relax. Consider your blessings. For most professionals, we have it pretty good – debt and all. You are guaranteed a career for life with dentistry – so long as your eyes and hands work, you can practice. Not many other professions can say this. We can be our own bosses if we choose. We can specialize to make more money if we are unhappy with the DDS/DMD limitations. The list goes on and on. There’s a reason it was picked as number one career in 2013! (that’s what led me to find this post, actually!)

    For the women who are concerned that they cannot start a family, as Lolabees and others have said, you can definitely have children and live a happy married life. I married during my GPR, have a wonderful, caring husband and a son, and I couldn’t be happier. Baby number two is still in the cards! (though, I think if you want a big family, I would consider having your kids before going to school and pursuing dentistry later.)
    Those good people in your life – your immediate family, close friends, spouses, kids – they will give you the strength you need to tackle your profession. Dentistry is not a cakewalk – you have to try. You have to give a damn. And you have to put up with a lot of spit and shit and pay back a lot of your profits! Even after paying back your loans, you will have to make other payments, overhead, taxes, mortgage payments, etc etc.

    But you also have the freedom to work part time, pursue art or other hobbies on the side, and live a comfortable life. My husband is also a dentist, and when we married, we both had loans. Here we are years later – we still have loan payments though we both work! But we have two working cars, a very cozy, wonderfully furnished apartment, a toddler and a dog. In my opinion, despite the debt, I’m living the dream.

    Follow your passion. If you decided to pursue dentistry for the big bucks, it probably isn’t a great fit for you. But if you have a true desire to serve, to assist your patient in the specialized ways you’ve learned, to be a leader in the profession… go with your gut. No amount of debt should scare anyone. It’s just money – money comes and goes. And once your earnings go up as you pick up speed and experience, you find you can increase your monthly payments too.

    A final word for the students – live frugally. Don’t get Starbucks everyday. Buy a coffee maker and thermos. Cook your own meals during the weekend, freeze them, and eat those for lunch. You’d be surprised how much lunch & dinner excursions take from your loans and earnings! In addition, as far as nights out go – limit yourselves to $25/month. Once you spend that, don’t go out again until next month. Just some tips I remember from D-school that saved me a fortune.

    Best of luck to all in the field or considering it! Remember, una sonrisa puede todo! A smile can do everything!

    Dr. Carmen

    1. Dr. Carmen,
      Those are great words of advice for the prospective dental student. Although I have personally written about being unhappy as a dentist on this blog, I think your perspective about attitude is right on. You have made some valid points about the positives and negatives of our career in a very honest manner.

    2. Hi Dr. Carmen,
      Thanks so much for the thoughtful reply! I did try to write this post objectively because I had a lot of people asking me these very questions. A few prospective dental students have mentioned that they find the comments on this thread daunting, but I’ve tried to remind them that my blog does attract a lot of dentists that are unhappy with the career, so it definitely is a biased viewpoint. I’m so happy to have the other side represented on here. I still tell people I think it’s a great career in so many ways– just because it wasn’t a fit for me doesn’t mean everyone else will have the same experience. Oh btw, it’s been quoted on my blog by a friend that in any career only 17% of people are truly satisfied with their careers. Can you believe that? It’s a staggering number.

  53. What a great thing your blog is!!!
    True stories from the trenches. I’ve been practicing for 30 years.
    Graduated with debt that equalled my first year salary.
    ( by the way that is the healthy debt # recommended by Kiplingers.)
    I was asked for advice from young dentists at my local dental society. I am now going to steer them to your blog.
    Keep up the great work.

  54. It’s a little comforting to know that others realize that dentistry ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’m a fairly recent graduate who realized halfway through second year that this crap wasn’t for me. But I stuck with it; I figured all the debt and time poured into this career, I might as well be positive and like it. A few years later, and guess what, dentistry still sucks. My back and neck ache, the “excitement” has turned into nauseating stress, and I shudder every time one thing goes wrong and the shit hits the fan.

    The money is a good thing…if you can make it. There is no set salary; I know grads who are bouncing around having a very difficult time filling up their schedule- and this isn’t in NYC or DC, but in relatively average cities that are not the boondocks, but certainly not huge capital areas. I only foresee this problem getting worse, with more dental schools opening up, the economy probably not rising out of the gutters, mid-level providers, a shift in insurance policy etc. Grads coming out nowadays can make anywhere from 55-160K; sadly depending on your skills and technique, which aren’t necessarily helped by the hazing atmosphere of dental academia, most could soon be making on the lower end of that range.

    I have a sense that a few of my former classmates feel this way as well, but they are too ashamed to admit it. Many days I wish I stuck with my engineering job; still trying and working on transitioning back. At 400K, I figure I’m not going to be paying that back anytime soon whether I am doing dentistry or not. Might as well tolerate my job if I am to be in debt.

    1. Wow! Dentistry was a 2nd career for you? There’s nothing worse than feeling stuck. Sounds like you have a direction you can go though. Good luck creating change!

  55. Again, as stated, a great list of pros and cons. I am siding with the ” I love being a Dentist ” group. I was in practice for 26 years. I loved the trust my patients had in me, and the new relationships I gained from that trust. Due to a Non-dental injury, I had to stop private practice, but now am an Asst. Professor at the same Dental School I went to, and really enjoy it. So I am blessed to have seen it from 2 perspectives. I did very well in practice, saved, and was smart enough to get disability insurance when I graduated a long time ago. Pays me for life, which they don’t even sell those anymore.

    Cheers, Dr. T

  56. I was a graduate of a foreign dental school, did my internship and my rural stint with the Ministry for Health of my country, I cam to USA for a graduate degree in Public Health. I too, learned that I wasn’t a fit by the time 3rd year came as the first 2 years was basic sciences taught by the medical college professors who were venerated. I stuck it out as I do not like to think of myself as quitter but even in those early twenties, I realized I didn’t have the personality. ( I loved literature, history and creative writing).
    Long story short I have hit 50 and i am still without a career job due to some intense family tragedies which needed my total involvement over the years and I am finally realizing another side in me: that I do not like working for bosses and want the independence to work the hours as I will. Luckily I am single and do not have any children, but still have to think of retirement. Have been fortunate that my father’s business overseas has taken care of my living and needs and even frequent traveling since he passed. Now I feel that I made a big mistake in not pursuing even though I still know it is not right for me, so I took Boards Part 1 last year and plan to take Part 2 this Dec. (Only just started studying! After almost 24 years!) and I was hoping that I could loan 100K and finish the 2 years to get licensed (if any dental school would take me!) and I could do something with it for some years: getting my self respect back and some money save after paying off the loan, meaning to live within my means and also travel. Coming to this blog accidentally, it feels like deja vue and remembering all the stress and the sinking feeling in my gut (can’t be good for your heart, and recipe for stress related diseases at my age!) at looking at patients and the patients are a whole lot more difficult to please here in the US than where I am originally from. Here they look at dental services as a commodity and we are selling it and they call us “dentists versus doctors” and i have tried to correct many of my friends that it is erroneous to say that as now all are doctors but they are called dentists and physicians. So, on the road to extremely difficult preparation with just decks, Mosby’s and question papers, AND a short time frame to complete, I am having second thoughts. The possibility of going overseas and being a lecturer in a private dental school in my birth country is what I am contemplating, as I cannot stand the rigors of opening a clinic in my birth country or here. The other thought is going for more school and being a counselor or teaching community college or high school here, (although not much money but better than being locked in as a dentist or as an employee anywhere without much free time) so that I could get summers off to travel with my siblings who are in different parts of the world. That would take 2 years of schooling. Hopefully my Dad’s business will remain a viable alternative for my retirement and I could do work that satisfies and suits me more.
    I just wanted to find out if taking my boards will be at all wise, or should I just give it up. It IS a lot of effort, even though I pride myself in being a good student!

    1. Hi Kanwal,
      Glad you found the blog! Your story is so fascinating. I think you are the first person I have heard from who left the field early on and now years later wants to get started. The good news is it sounds like you have several options you can pursue. I know you are looking for advice about taking the boards, and I usually try not to give advice because my view is biased and might not be true for everyone. I think you know the answer though… 😉 I would take the boards and pursue this ONLY if you want to be in dentistry. If you are only doing it so you can have a career and have your own business, I don’t think it’s worth the sacrifices you will have to make. However, if you do want to be a dentist again, you will find that the reward will outweigh the sacrifice. Good luck making a decision!

  57. Hi lolabees,
    U can’t imagine how much reading your blog made a difference, call it luck but today I finally let my taunting thoughts all out to my mother. I just graduated as a dentist from a foreign country and as the routine dictates you, you have to finish your boards to get licensed in the US. I have never told anyone how much I hated my career and felt obliged and responsible to proceed even though I don’t like it. I’m 27 and I thought I’m too old not to know what I want. I’m still really confused on what I should do and I’m scared to take action to change especially that I don’t know what else to do. I love working with children they give me so much joy ….I’m still really swinging but would like to hear what u think.

    1. Hi Terra,
      Wow! Congrats on “coming out” as I like to say!! I think if you know, you know. If I were you, I would try to find your true passion. How grueling is the process to get licensed here? Is it just boards? If I categorize it, I’d say you can take 2 paths:
      1) take boards, get licensed, and practice so you can get a steady income while you discover what you really want to do. You’ve come so far that boards and 1 year or 2 of work is nothing. Would pedo make it any better???
      OR
      2) Do something completely different and just go for it. You’ll make it work out.

      I think it depends on what feels right to you and what type of need you have (do you need a job and income immediately?) But whatever you do, my advice is to never settle. Don’t let yourself get stuck. You mentioned the word “hate,” so I’d say you know what you don’t want to spend the rest of your life doing. What do you think??

  58. Love your blog, all the things you talk about, good and bad, are true for my profession as well, I am a denturist from Canada. to put it in perspective, my parents owned/operated a grocery store, gas station and auto repair shop: same complaints, same blessings.

    Have you ever been told “I’ll pay you when I’m happy” or “My wife hates my dentures, my lawyer will be calling you! (patient had his dentures less than 24 hours). I am of retirement age (55+) but i am still paying off student loans that are 25 years old. Business has been dropping by 10% per year for five years. I still love to make dentures, I just hate being the boss! Any one want to hire a great denturist?

    1. Hi denturist,
      I’m so glad you found the blog! You are the first denturist I’ve heard from. I imagine it is very similar for you. Yes, we’ve all heard those things, and funny how some patients only find something wrong with your work after you come after them to pay. 😉 Good luck! I could hire you, but it wouldn’t be to make dentures!

  59. I’m in my early 30 and I love Dentistry! 🙂 I had another career before starting dental school; and honestly, it has been the best decision for me to quit my previous profession and switch to dentistry! 🙂 The only thing i regret is not to start dental school earlier in my life, but that’s ok guess.

    1. Hi Nick! Glad to hear it was the right move for you. Don’t look back though, maybe you needed to start in a different career to see how right dentistry is for you! Congrats!

    2. I can’t wait to read your posts in 10 years after a divorce, a few trivial lawsuits, and an accumulating number of patients leaving your practice because you couldn’t do things good enough for them. You can’t win in dentistry. You will always be depressed from the stress that will only get worse the older you get.

      1. Couldn’t have said it better Chris. It took me about a year in private practice to realize that both the owner doctors and patients are against you. The stress piled up and never lets up! My health failed because of this miserable career choice. Our competition is ourselves and corporate non-dentist owners (Aspen, etc.) . I used to practice in Chicago and there is no worse place to hang up your shingle in the country. Over fifty dental offices went bankrupt after 2008 fiasco and there is a dentist or two every fifth of a mile, I kid you not (most in strip malls next to liquor stores and tanning spas). There is no professionalism. And having worked for an insurance company reviewing dental claims, let me tell you how unethical many of our colleagues are. It’s the stress of shrinking reimbursements, competition, high student debt and practice loans, and on it goes. It’s a terrible time to be a dentist and I hate to break it to the newbies coming out. I think the eighties were the last few years where managed care hadn’t crept in yet.

  60. Wow great, blog. I search google for ways to get out of being a dentist daily, and am pretty much miserable with it. Not to mention that most of the dentist I have dealt with have been awful and the dentist I paid $830K five years ago for awful dental practice, lied to me and basically took my money, he lied to me about the value of the practice, then trashed my reputation and now I am close to bankruptcy, oh joy.

    It seems to me the grey haired dentist are egoistical, money hunger and always think they know best, blah blah blah.

    Patients don’t understand that I paid 500K to become a dentist and then another 830K for a practice in California, everyone is nickle and diming and the insurance companies are reducing rates, while costs have skyrocketed.

    Dentistry is in decline and is way to expensive and stressful for the return in my book. Knowing what I know now I would never, never have gone to dental school. What a complete was of 500K, ouch.

    I hope I can get out of the field in the next few years with out going bankrupt, but my feeling is most dentist are not the type of person I would to work with, and my experience with other dentist has been very bad, and I have a bitter taste in my mouth. What a waste of time and money.

    1. I’m so glad you found the blog! Thanks for your comment. Wow! I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve had such bad experiences. It just goes to show that we all have to face the realities of running a business even when it’s the business of caring for people. I can say that personally I do believe a series of bad jobs contributed to my dissatisfaction with the profession, and it sounds like something along those lines happened to you too. I still like to believe, though, that as a whole it’s still a pretty good community of people who mean well. You’re probably right that you wouldn’t want to work with most dentists– not to say they are bad people, but maybe that’s why most work alone and most associateships fail.

      What do you want to do? Have you started exploring that?

  61. Finding your blog has given me a little hope. I have been practicing for 18 years now and hate every stressful minute of it. I didn’t like it in dental school 20 years ago but thought it would grow on me as I got more experience. Unfortunately that never happened and instead I hate it more than ever. My anxiety is so high I feel like I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But I also feel stuck. I am mom to four kids and only work part time (I would have gone over the edge a LONG time ago if I had to work full time!!) and the income I make working only part time is not something easy to give up. I am so lucky because I get a lot of time raising my kids but still make almost as much as my husband makes working full time. We would be in a lot of trouble without my income. But I am so desperate to find a new career, I think about it almost all the time. I am so full of regrets that I didn’t go down a different path all those years ago. It’s nice to know there are other dentists out there who hate it almost as much as I do. Any suggestions how to go about finding a new career? I feel so lost.

    1. How is this nice to know….Lolabees, in your experience, how many dentists (%) would you say are satisfied with their jobs? I saw a recent statistic that 70% were but I don’t recall the source.

      Nervousbreakdown, if you hated it in school then it’s not surprising you hate it now.

      I am a 2nd year in dental school now and so far I like it, except making dentures, but some of these posts are certainly worrisome. I wonder how many of the dentists who say they love their job actually despise it like you guys do.

      1. Hmm, Dave… I’m not sure the answer to that. If anyone on here knows, I’d love to get that statistic. I have heard from others that the average job satisfaction rate for all jobs is only 17%… kind of grim. It tells us that most of us stay stuck in jobs we don’t like. Maybe you heard the 70% stat on US News and World Report? Dentists are the #1 career on their list again this year. Just came out. You are seeing a lot of the realities on this thread, but there are still a lot that are perfectly content with the career.

        As far as nervousbreakdown hating school and still hating the real world of dentistry, while I agree with your comment, it was so hard for a lot of us to really know at the time. Many of us hated school and thought it was because it was school and that it would be better when we were out. I can say for myself I didn’t hate school, but I didn’t love it, and I always did think it was going to be better on the other side.

        I do think a lot of dentists you talk to say they like it but aren’t entirely happy with it. But that does not mean that you will hate it too. You like it now, you will probably like it in the future. It’s a great career! We’re just not all cut out for it.

        1. I think that’s a point in itself though….not that anyone here is wrong for saying dentistry wasn’t for them, but if the overall job satisfaction of ALL jobs is only 17%…well then dentistry sure isn’t worse then anything else lol. I mean my ideal job would be owning a gym and personally training serious athletes but the chances of that happening are nil (and most gym owners will tell you it is incredibly stressful and unstable), I don’t know how realistic it is to look for a job you will LOVE. Enjoy maybe but I can’t think of many people I’ve met in my lifetime who truly love their job and make a decent amount

          I wouldn’t say I love school now…I hate studying as do most people. Operative and Fixed labs have been good, denture/removable is annoying. Perio seems arbitrary and subjective. I have endo this semester so we’ll see how that goes. I feel rushed in labs but otherwise enjoy when I improve in how well I am doing the work. I really don’t know how I will like it. I like being social and talking to the patients but I’m sure the job can get extremely stressful especially if you don’t work fast enough. It just seems like the job market is a game of which poison can you tolerate the most lol.

          Oh and I did see that US News and World Report. I laughed at it saying a starting salary was ~23k though….maybe they mean for residencies or something.

        2. Dave, I think you are correct, there are no magical jobs out there…. everyone of them have pros and cons… it comes down to which pros you enjoy more than the cons… For instance.. there are many things I hate about dentistry… but when I look around and realize that other jobs have just as many Cons that I dislike more.. For instance Lolabees has made a career change that is working out well for her… I couldn’t do what Lolabees in doing now, it doesn’t get me up in the Morning… knowing that helps me recognize the parts of dentistry I do enjoy, that get me up in the morning and work hard to do more of that!

        3. Doug,

          Thanks for the reply, would you mind briefly stating what the pros and cons are for dentistry that you have found for yourself?

        4. I enjoy figuring stuff out and finding solutions even ones that are off the way so to speak.. I don’t do root canals, I no longer due implant surgery as I had too much anxiety when they were scheduled. I realize that dentists don’t change peoples lives, but restoring a smile that looks great and functions well is rewarding.

        5. I think that’s a fair statement– dentistry isn’t worse than other careers. If you talk to any of us that have “come out” about how we really feel about dentistry, you’ll probably see that most of us wish we loved it because there are so many great things about it. Remember, too, that many of my readers/commenters have found this site because they were feeling very isolated and have found a place where they can be real about their disdain for the job. I don’t tend to attract as many that love the career– what I have to say isn’t that interesting to many of them. 😉 So the comments here are a bit biased– which is why I tried to be pretty neutral in my pros and cons list.

          As you point out, sometimes the things we love don’t make the best careers for us. I love to travel, but I don’t want my career to be in the travel industry. I fear that it would make me lose some of my love of it, so I prefer to pick something else to maintain my love of travel. In response to Doug, he has done what I would suggest you do with the gym/exercise thing and anything else you really enjoy. He has stayed in dentistry, but he has some other passions that he pursues (and blogs about it, btw.) I think that helps people maintain their balance. If you are only defined by dentistry and have nothing else, no other creative outlet, it could suffocate you.

          And your general feelings toward school sound very normal– so what I’m saying is you’re not doomed!! LOL

    2. Hi Nervousbreakdown– I know how you feel. You must be feeling awful if you resorted to calling yourself that. 😉 I can’t believe you made it 18 years!! That takes a lot of strength! I actually have just spoken to 2 other people who left after 18 years, so there is definitely hope for you. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but I have written a lot about how I found my new career(s)!! Let me know if you want me to contact you, or you can fill out my contact form on my blog, and I can guide you to the posts I think might help you, or I can share my 2 sense. I feel your pain. It’s a miserable way to pass your days. You can do this! You will find a way to change– even with your 4 kids!! It’s possible.

      1. Even after 18 years, it can still be financially and credentially impossible or difficult to escape the trap of dentistry

    3. I feel your agony. Just yesterday I was in an argument with a patient over his $120 bill he got in the mail from us. After struggling with his daughter doing a couple of fillings and 2 extractions, his bill was around $850 (this included some cleanings for his whole family). He paid $150 upfront but refuses to pay his balance because he thinks we should have known to the penny what his insurance company was going to pay. In other words, “screw you doctor. Once I leave your office, if you haven’t collected your part, I’m not obligated to pay you anymore!”. This is just one example as to why you should run like H3LL from dentistry. Your skill, time, talents, and efforts will not be respected in any way. The number of times I’ve been told I’m hated is staggering. What other profession/job/ exists where a customer can so easily drive off and not pay their provider? Nowhere! Dentists are the most screwed over people I know. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and I too hate my career choice more now than ever. But I can’t escape it because I am in too much debt to walk away, too old to really do anything else. This profession needs a major overhaul to protect the dentist financially.

      Bottom line: DO NOT GO INTO DENTISTRY!!!!! YOU WILL HATE IT! Or else you are just too stupid to realize you are getting screwed over, or you just don’t care you’re losing money by the hour.

      1. How are you still in debt if you’ve been doing this for 20 years…student debt??

        Also it’s one thing to have your opinion, and I like to see all sides of dentistry, but there’s a reason dentistry has such high job satisfaction and was rated the #1 career in 2015. To give the blanket statement that it’s horrible, that everyone will absolutely hate it, and that anyone who goes into it is stupid is, frankly, just absurd.

        1. Average debts are hovering $200-300k+ (NYU) so yes, a twenty year term is not unheard of . That is like a decent mortgage and then we wonder why corporate dentistry is necessary these days for new grads. Gone are the days of “ideal” dentistry

        2. I guess it depends what your other expenses are. This is something I do not yet have experience with so I’m genuinely curious. I am very OK with living a low key lifestyle at the moment and for awhile afterwards. I currently pay about 12k in rent per year and 5k on food. That’s most of my expenses. Let’s throw in another random 3k here and there to equal 20k of necessities for the year. Now on top of that let’s full on double it for car payments/gas and whatever else. 40k per year. Many entire families live on 40k per year so I think to say I could live by myself on 40k per year is completely reasonable.

          As a dentist I should absolutely be making 100+k per year, hopefully 150+k per year. So even taking the absolute minimum I have an extra 60k every year to use. Let’s say I put 5k away in my Roth IRA and use another 5k for other investments. Even with doubling my expenses and using the minimum salary I’m still left with 50k. How does it take so long to pay off the debt then? Am I missing something? Even with interest it doesn’t seem like that should take more than 5-10 years.

          As mentioned I could very well be missing something. Maybe some feel the need to live more extravagantly than I do..

        3. Dave, I don’t live high on the hog but do maximize my 401k and IRA. I don’t want to live in poverty just because of student loan debt, either. You cannot borrow for retirement. Medical expenses $700/mo with child (I take it you have no children), $400/mo in his college fund, auto is cheap, but $1800/mo in student loans which you are not allowed to refi. I challenge any new professional, whether law, dental, or medical school, to come out easily paying off student debt in this day. Sure, you can live at home. I don’t have that luxury; my parents live overseas. Everything else falls in line as “normal” I drive a used VW Golf for crying out loud. Why go to dental school? It’s a very poor investment. Notice, I’m not talking about career satisfaction, but strictly as a money making proposition. Yes, there are many that live like doctors, not me. I believe we are entering a dangerous, unethical line with dentistry.. The stories I have heard of colleagues needing to work hard at Aspen, to take one example, so they can get ahead. Their other choice is working for a single dentist who wants to “mentor” them, whatever that means, and pay them $400/day. Now do the math

        4. Funny you mention the latter option actually, I got a text from my father earlier today that my dentist wants me to work with him upon graduation for “500+ minimum per day, more when you bring in clients”. I am not sure how good that is relative to what’s out there but to start it seems solid.

          Besides medical I’m not seeing anything in what you said that I didn’t already mention. And you are correct that I don’t have kids. I will graduate at 26 years old and likely have my first kid around 28.

          In my above example it would be $130k per year. I won’t be living at home, I will pay rent AND that rent will be split with my girlfriend (physical therapist) so now if we’re specifically talking about my funds it’s 6k on rent, 5k on food, roughly. Lets throw in another 5k for medical, 5k on random car expenses and we’re at 21k. If someone can break it down for me I’m all ears, I certainly don’t have the mind set of “I’m right” here, I just have yet to see an actual breakdown as to why it’s so hard to get out of these debts. I must be missing something…

        5. It’s a blanket statement because it is true. In order of what makes dentistry a BAD choice: 1) employees and their constant issues, 2) taxes, 3) dental insurance conflicts, 4) no time for a “free-from-worry” vacation, 5) employee issues, 6) being hated by everyone you come into contact with , 7) high overhead, 8) employee issues, 9) more taxes, 10) too much competition down the street which makes it so easy for patients to price war their way to getting cheaper dentistry at YOUR cost. 11) employee issues and enormous taxes. 12) STRESSFUL job to the max!!!! with very little compensation.

          Did I mention employees and taxes as a major deal buster?

        6. Steve, your posts are surprisingly generic for someone who is apparently so educated. Literally every job out there has cons. You want to mention taxes and overhead….OK how much are you netting per year after those are taken out? Now take literally every other job out there that would net you less than that (i.e. most jobs) and then by your standards all of those jobs would suck too. Employee problems? Oh you mean, again, like almost all jobs? Stressful….how many people out there can say they don’t have a stressful job?? Life is stressful and work is generally even more so.

          All of your problems, barring competition and dental insurance, are problems with the large majority of jobs out there. Not to mention that they are all problems you should have known about getting into the profession in the first place.

          Now I will completely agree that the competition among other dentists and dealing with insurance is a big and irritating problem but this is even a bigger concern in the medical field (the insurance problems). I in now way expect to be jolly all day every day at work…it’s a job and unless I’m working out and playing video games for a living it’s eventually going to become tedious, stressful and bothersome at times. As I’ve mentioned I absolutely want to hear the negative sides of dentistry so i can objectively weigh the options, but your posts are like a review at a steakhouse saying “Steak is terrible! Get me out of here” rather than “THIS steakhouse is bad because of ___, ___, and ____ reasons that are specific to this restaurant”. If you don’t like steak in general maybe you should have thought about that before making a reservation.

        7. Do you think the only thing a dentist is in debt to is the practice???? He may still have other associated debts …..cars, beach house, kids cars and education.

      2. Dave, this is actually a good exercise. Your $130k is a good start, but your expenses are fairly low. So, I take it no student loans? Most young dentists are graduating with 18-25k in debt service a year. In my example above, I used an average student’s debt in contemporary society, i.e graduated recently as in the last ten years. I commend you that your auto expenses are low. Even if we take a car payment of $250, gas costs me $200/mo for an average 20 mile commute, insurance 120 minimum (total 6500-6800). Are you figuring any insurances other than med? Disability? My disability policy was $400/month. That’s another 4800/yr. Your rent is also low; i’m not sure where you live, but that is a big difference. My rent is $1800/mo (no roommate and that’s Chicago, granted). Cell/utilities? Internet? Unless you can somehow live without those, I admire you. But it seems that your expenses may be atypical. Then, there’s malpractice, dues/fees, etc. Now, the margin is a little tighter, but it leaves still a good living for you. Such comparisons as you can see are weak as everyone’s situation is different; children will make a big difference and I am counting $400/for his college. But I couldn’t imagine waiting to have children until student loans are paid off. Such predictions are foolish (there is never a good time). Also, figure you will need savings for emergencies and to eventually buy a house. For the interest of simplification, I’ll assume a 28% tax bracket, too. Just an example

        1. Good post. I will of course have student loans to pay but that’s what all of the “extra” is for in my above example, since we’re talking about ability to pay off student loans with the extra income. I assume you are allowed to pay off student loans as fast as you wish.

          This is helpful as I’m sure there are many things I have not thought of, and you are certainly in a position to know more than I am. I plan to buy a car when I get out of school, rather than lease, so that will be a fairly large payment, but not one I have to may every year. The auto costs I mentioned were related to maintenance of the vehicle, gas, etc. which in your example is ~3800 and then tack on another 1200 for random repairs that seem to pop up.

          So auto = ~5k
          Disability = ~5k
          Medical = ~5k (estimating based on mid-tier costing $328/month)
          Rent = 12k (I think it would be lower as it will be split between me and my gf/wife and I can find plenty of places for 1000 per month myself but I’ll say 2000 rent and then split between us)
          Kids = I do not have kids but lets say I start early with that and put another 5k every year from the time I graduate into a savings account for them
          Food = 5k
          Gym = $600
          Malpractice Insurance: I do not know how much dental malpractice insurance is off hand but in doing some research it appears to not be much more than 2,000. So lets say 2400 to bring it up to….

          Subtotal = $40,000

          As I estimated in my first post. Again anyone reading this please let me know if I’ve missed some things as I certainly may have.

          Now yes I will need to eventually buy a house but not for the time being and then that is a separate debt altogether. I am not in any way saying I won’t be in general debt throughout my life, as most people are, but it’s STUDENT DEBT I’m speaking about specifically. In my above example of a starting salary of 130k I’m left with 90k per year sitting around after my expenses. Am I wrong?

          Thanks

        2. Thanks again for replying Dave. You may not be in long term debt with your attitude and examples above. You are certainly in a great position to pay things down and if you maintain your modest lifestyle, retire early and rich. Perhaps I wasn’t the best example as a comparison (child care is a big one, hockey, daycare, etc etc) But if you can work down the big one, student loans, it’ll free up so much money for down payments, and so on. My best advice to young dentists is to not overshoot housing expenses (everyone wants to live like a doctor, after all, we graduated dental school). There is usually no prepayment penalty for student loans. Keep doing what you’re doing and you will be just fine

  62. Nervousbreakdown-you sound a lot like me. I am a mother to 3 children in the same situation. I have now been practicing for almost 17 years, mostly part-time like you so I can be with my children. When I practiced full-time for a couple of years I wanted to go crazy so being part-time has saved my sanity. I also make as much as my husband working part-time so it is difficult to give this up from a financial standpoint. Lolabees has many excellent suggestions and articles to help you. I have not been able to get out yet but am hoping to eventually. Being able to contribute to this blog has helped me knowing there are others who feel the same way. It has provided me with inspiration and hope that there is a way out. I wish you luck in finding your way.

  63. Wow, where to start. Finally, a blog I’ve been looking for to post my post-DDS experience. I’ve read most of it and the comments. I had the “lucky” break of having being diagnosed with a chronic illness. Although not particularly debilitating, I found that it was my ticket to jump on my disability insurance and change careers. You see, I never warmed up to dentistry. Even my second year in dental school, I wanted out. I wanted to become an engineer. My parents were unrelenting. I understand family and social pressure, but at the end of the day, the misery is all yours to take home. Anyway, I tried every permutation of dental practice: associate, partner, owner. At times, I made excellent money. I bought the big house, leased luxury cars with impunity, but was never happy. A divorce later, my health failed. I found myself floundering at my dental office and wondering why I should even bother. For me, the last straw was a patient suing me for a temp veneer that came off twice prior to final cementation. For those of you in a similar situation, you know how demoralizing it feels to be violated this way, have your morals or competence questioned, all because you’re an easy target to a lawyer that will find a way. A refund wasn’t enough? Doing the right treatment that eliminated his sensitivity and expediting the final restoration to appease him wasn’t enough? He left anyway, but it underscores the fact that no matter how conscientious and giving and kind you are, it’s oftentimes not enough. For me, the stress of having to deal with those 10% of patients or the negative Yelp reviews or the nonpaying deadbeats, was ultimately not worth it. Life is too short to have to wear “ten hats” to satisfy the needs of staff, patients, creditors, etc. For those of you who can deal with that, my hat’s off. My situation is also different, I realize. Having a good insurance policy allowed me to switch careers as a dental consultant (I know, the enemy). But, although the money isn’t that good, combined, I make more than your average dentist; for me, it was a no-brainer. Even without this “advantage” (if you want to call being ill having an advantage in life) I figured, if I had the work ethic and intelligence to get through dental school, I can be resourceful in choosing and pursuing many other careers. I have many friends and family members that are dentists; most dislike practicing anymore in their middle age years or are burned out. As a matter of fact, there are many studies that show that dentists are more neurotic, abuse substances or alcohol more frequently than other professionals, divorce at higher rates, or have just learned to live with chronic physical and emotional pain. I’m not writing any of this (admittedly, disjointed) post to discourage anyone. It’s just my experience. Even with all the cons, at least in my column, I questioned my decision to never practice clinical dentistry again. I even went back to work part time to see if I could be happier just associating. But that, as most of us practicing dentists know, has its own problems, with loss of autonomy, income potential, etc. I for one am not completely happy with being a consultant, but for me, it’s a spring board to retraining myself in another career or going back to school part time. Thanks for allowing me to share my story.

    1. Wow! You have quite a story. I’m so glad you shared it. You know it’s a rough time when you are hoping for something to happen to your health that’s not too bad, but that’s enough to allow you to quit dentistry and collect your disability. I used to feel that way, and I’m sure a lot of us do. It was always weird, though, to wish something bad would happen to my health. It always felt wrong because ultimately that’s the last thing any of us want. It just goes to show the level of desperation we have felt trapped in this career. You described that experience so well, and I think a lot of us here can relate to what you say.

      With regards to your lawsuit… that is just horrible. I had a much less worrisome situation, but I had a patient complain to the board because I refused to treat him– I saw the red flags the minute he walked in the door. I did nothing wrong, and the board found that, but it caused so much turmoil for me. I couldn’t help but ask myself how we, as dentists, are protected from the crazy patients out there. They have boards to protect themselves from us, but who is protecting us? Shouldn’t we protect the next dentist from this patient’s wrath because we know there will be a next victim? Shouldn’t the patient be dropped from his insurance for making such a frivolous and wrong claim? Something? Anything? In discussion with others about this injustice, I was always told that’s what we have malpractice insurance for. Yeah, that’s great, but it never seemed like enough for me. It never seemed enough that any crazy person could come along and try to ruin my life without any merit. Oh well, I guess that was one of the responsibilities that come with the job.

      Good luck finding what’s next! You’ll find it! We all can do it. Thanks for your story. They’re all so interesting.

      1. Hi lolabees

        Thanks for recognizing that there is a definite, significant proportion of us that are simply too burnt out or otherwise disillusioned with dentistry, insurances, and patients. I couldn’t believe that so many fellow colleagues of ours feel the same . It’s so empowering to read that there are other options for us, even when we might feel trapped. This is a great blog I’ll be referencing again and again. Thanks for reading my story

  64. I’m really glad I found your blog post about the pros and cons of dentistry! I’m a sophomore in high school, and dentistry has been an interest of mine. This is so informative, and I’ve been trying to find people out there who speak the truth instead of sugar coating. Of course there are indeed people out there who truly love this area. It’s great to know about all the cons to consider when deciding what I want to do as a career. I’ve been really interested in ortho, but I know that is far from where I am now. Costs for college is what worries me the most. I’m not really sure if I want to get myself in that much debt. Anyways, thanks for the great post! It’s the first one I found where people in the field have spoken about the negative side! All the people I’ve contacted so far decided not to answer my question of the negatives. Of course I don’t blame them; no body really likes to talk about that! Thanks again

  65. Wow – I’m so glad that I found this page. At least I feel like I am not alone. I can identify with so many of the comments here. I’ve been in this profession for 32 years now, and I have set my time to “get out” to be 2 years from now. Sometimes I feel like it is just a dream — but when I think of it as REALITY, it makes every day a little bit more bearable.

    There are some people who try to make me feel guilty. The only people who DON’T are friends of mine who were dentists in the military and are now retired — and loving it. My partner at work is totally burned out and depressed, but feels a need to keep on going (“I’ll never retire” he says proudly. “Idiotic”, I think to myself).

    I’ve been in the same office for 27 of my 32 years in private practice. I’ve developed great relationships with most of my patients. I have patients complement me all the time for my good work and dedication to their oral health. And yes, that is rewarding.

    So… why would I want to leave? Part of it is my personality. I worry constantly about doing the best job possible for my patients. But there are SO many factors that are out of my control — and that is a killer. No matter how much a patient may like me, when a lab has to remake a crown 3 times before it is acceptable to put in someone’s mouth, it is stressful (and don’t tell me to change labs — they are all basically alike… do great work at first, and then suck when they get busier). When someone pages me with a toothache that simply cannot wait until Monday, and I am in the middle of attending an important event, it is stressful. When someone won’t get numb after several injections, and the entire schedule snowballs into delays for hygiene checks and other patients, it is stressful. And that it just the tip of the iceberg.

    The thing is, I can deal with stress. But when it comes at me all at once, and my back and neck hurt at the end of almost every day, and I feel physically and mentally drained, it is time to leave.

    Yes, I will miss many of my patients. But they will be in good hands with my successor, whoever he or she may be. If they don’t think so, that will be their issue.

    The thing that is hardest for me to do right now is to ignore the guilt that colleagues put on me. Where is it written that we have a responsibility to “The Profession” (I’m biting my tongue as to what I really want to say here) to work as hard as we can, as many hours as we can, be available to as many people as we can, 24/7? After 32 years of treating peoples’ mouths (+ the 4 in dental school), isn’t it acceptable to stop? Shouldn’t that accomplishment be celebrated? why do so many colleagues not think so?

    I’ll never forget what a physician once told me about his family dentist. He admirably stated that the dentist worked until he was 73 years old, and he was so dedicated that he made a special nursing home visit one night (which I do as well), pulled a tooth on a patient… and went home and had a heart attack and died that night. He never had the chance to even experience retirement. I don’t want to be that person…. is that a bad thing? Some people seem to think so.

    1. Glad to hear from you, Eric. Wow– 32 years! You made it! You are going to be so relieved when you retire. Definitely listen to your retired friends and not the ones who lay the guilt on you. Just tune them out because I will tell you, that first day when you taste freedom, you will be laughing in their faces. And a few might even secretly tell you that they wish they could retire from dentistry too. I hope you have some plans to treat yourself to some great things. All those things you mentioned really stressed me out too– you are a much stronger person than I am for being able to endure that. Ask anyone here, and they will tell you it’s acceptable to stop. Sounds like you are ready. Don’t wait until you die– I think that’s a bad thing. 😉

    2. There is no reason to feel bad Eric!! You have persevered long enough and while I am sure your patients may miss you, they will wish you well in retirement. If you are able to get out now then do it. Those people that are trying to make you feel bad are just jealous-misery loves company. I also think it is some sort of ego thing with dentists about practicing until you drop. I am not sure where that mentality came from but I think it is time for that to change. When I first graduated from dental school I worked for a dentist who felt that you weren’t working full-time unless you put it 55 plus hours a week. He thought that because he did that than everyone else should too. I was considered a wimp because I only wanted to work 36 hours a week (lol). I would say working for 32 years in this field is a huge accomplishment!! I am not sure I will make it that long since I have been doing this for 17 and I am not happy for all the same reasons you mentioned in your post. I say retire and don’t look back. You did your time, you were successful and have nothing to feel bad about. Best of luck.

    3. Never regret it Eric. I practiced for only fifteen years, but those were the most stressful years of my life. What made me stop was a diagnosis of a chronic illness that is exacerbated by stress and an episode of tachycardia one afternoon that had me whisked off to the ER. Those two events were a wake up call for me. That, compounded by a flailing economy, forced the sale of my office. I had several ignorant colleagues assume I couldn’t “hack it” in private practice; nothing could be further from the truth. I succeeded as an associate, as a partner, and finally, doing my own start up. But a life changing event like an illness or near heart attack has a way of prioritizing things for you. Luckily, I have a great disability policy and now work as a consultant. Many dentists thumb their nose at this, but I could care less. Keep doing dentistry, who am I to say? If you love it, do it until you’re eighty. As for me, I would never touch another hand piece again. If you care too much, this isn’t the career for you. You have to have thick skin. But this causes you to internalize stress, constantly not being able to speak your mind. No thanks. I am never looking back. Life is way too short to be tied down to a dental chair eight to ten hours a day, sometimes not coming home until after eight, missing your children’s ball games or whatever. Next thing you know, you wake up one morning and realize that your life has been an illusion. You can never get back years. I never travelled when I practiced; where is the value in life if all you do is work to buy a bigger house, more expensive car, and end up in divorce? (which a lot of dentists do). Or depressed, lacking exercise, getting fatter sitting all day…and on and on it goes. The above doesn’t apply to those of you that love it. Kudos. But I’m replying specifically to Eric who has some internal conflict about it. I did, you can do it, lolabee did it, and many other examples. You gotta not be afraid of reducing your standard of living. I couldn’t be happier being in a smaller home and travelling instead. To each their own. Good luck

  66. Thank you so much for your comments, Lolabees, Blue Heron, and CategoryIII. They definitely have been helpful and encouraging. I’m not so sure about me “being a much stronger person” Lolabees — I think YOU are the strong one for changing careers when you did… and exploring different possibilities in the process.

    I’ve scrolled forward and backwards (from this specific page), and have come across some very insightful posts, from you as well as the commenters. THANKS for that!

    Luckily, I have gotten nothing but support from my family and close friends — they see the toll that this career has taken on me. Even though I’ve only worked 4 days/week for most of my 32 dental years (a far cry from that insane 55 hours/week which you mentioned!!!), I still feel constant pressure. At least I have made the time to exercise almost daily, so I am physically in good shape — but it is the mental aspect of my life that needs fine-tuning. I don’t see how that will be possible until I leave this field.

    I’ve targeted several of the obstacles I’ll have in the process, and I am happy to report that I have not been deterred. The biggest issue I have is that I “care too much”. I care what my patients will think, care about them receiving good care after I leave, care how I’ll break the news to my business partner, etc.

    I think that is my biggest fear right now — telling my partner my plans to quit. Actually, even though we’ve worked together for 27 years, I am only an associate in his office. I never bought into the practice — so in theory, I could just leave. But we were good friends throughout dental school (having met the first day), and he treats me like an equal partner in the practice. So we’ve been friends since 1979 — I can’t just walk out on him. I know I need to sit down with him and talk about this — but it is not going to be easy. I’m kind of dreading that.

    But he’s already had bypass surgery…. I don’t want to go the same route, so I must do this. It doesn’t help matters that many of his family members have been in the medical field and subscribe to the “work till you drop dead” theory. But I WILL have the conversation…. because my own health and happiness must take precedence.

    I don’t want to ramble on too long here — I hope I can drop in whenever I need some reassurance and guidance. Your opinions are very much appreciated!

    Thanks again!

    1. Hmm… I could have sworn I replied to you, but it must have only been in my head! I’m really happy to hear that you have found these posts and the contributions of others on here very helpful. I had so much fear around telling my employers that I was leaving because I thought I was letting them down, but for the most part, they were very understanding… and again, I think they all secretly “got it.” Let us know what happens!

      1. Hi Lolabees! Yes, you did reply to my post! I actually posted twice, and you replied to my first one… much appreciated! So, no worries, you are not losing it! LOL

  67. After reading these posts I am relieved that I am not the only one with these feelings. I graduated five years ago. I recently told my self that I need to start planning to leave the profession. I have never enjoyed it but like many of you I feel trapped. With still $200 000.00 left of student loans, being the bread winner in the family and in the middle of a home build, I feel I can’t leave. I work full time as an associate in a very busy practice. I have a lot of guilt that I can’t attend my son’s activities. When I do attend them I feel like I should be working. Every time I take time off, I calculate how much money it is costing me. Sometimes I think being an owner would be better. But now I am not too sure. I come home from work exhausted to the point where I have no energy to make supper so my four year old goes and finds yogurt, cheese and a banana for supper. I really struggle with finding a balance between work and family life. I never thought I would have an only child but I feel that having another one would only postpone me from getting my freedom back. I have known for awhile that I need to make a change. I just don’t know what that is. It took me along time to get into dental school. It’s all I wanted for years and years. Now that I am a dentist it’s just not what I thought it would be. Financial freedom is not there yet and I am not my own boss so I am being told what to do. The owners take off on holidays and leave me at home to run the office. I feel taken advantage of because I am doing things that an associate should not have to do. I handle their ortho wires breaking and brackets off, temp crowns off and a bunch of other non productive stuff that takes me away from my productive chair. Also doing three hygiene checks every hour plus my chair plus emergencies is very exhausting. My day does not end at 5. With little support from my husband, my days are very long. Well that’s enough ranting. Thanks for allowing me to share my story.

    1. Confused-I read your post and I just want to say that I am sorry you feel this way and I can sympathize with you. I worked as an associate for several years before purchasing my own practice. You are being taken advantage of by this owner and unfortunately, it is that way for many associates. I hope you are getting compensated for the 3 hygiene exams you do per hour. As an associate, I was also doing this and I asked to be compensated for them so the owner did agree to add hygiene exams to my production. You should also be given some sort of base fee when you are doing more than your share of non-productive procedures. Maybe you could negotiate an hourly fee in addition to your productive procedures for these? The owners I worked for also expected me to cover many of the holidays as well and this got very frustrating because I could never plan a vacation during those times. I was always inundated with emergencies and had to go in the office when it was not open many times. I will say that being a practice owner is better in some ways but they additional responsibility and debt from purchasing a practice is still stressful and exhausting. Yes I can take a vacation when I want to now and work the hours I prefer but now I have to deal with issues like patients who don’t want to pay, managing staff members, etc. For me dentistry has been hard work and while I have finally finished paying off all of my loans, I still don’t enjoy it.

      1. Thanks blue heron. I do get compensated for the exams, so that helps make it worth it. Today I was the only one working because the two owners were on holidays. First thing in the morning, the suctions aren’t working. So I had my pt numb for fillings and I had to run and add oil and restart the compressor which I had no idea how to. The repair man is two hours away and walked me through it over the phone. Then I had to remake two temps that were not even mine. To top it off the nitrous unit wasn’t working so I had to put new tanks on. It wasn’t hard but I don’t think I should have to do that. It is 6:00 and I was supposed to be done at 5 and I am just leaving now. Meanwhile the other dentists are enjoying their extra long Easter weekend. Really? What am I doing?

        1. Confused- you should not be repairing the compressor, switching nitrous tanks and remaking everyone else’s temps. You should speak with the owners regarding this and tell them that you should not be expected to act as a practice owner if you are not one. If they want you to act in this manner then they should compensate you accordingly. Maybe you need to ask for an increase in your percentage of production to accommodate for the extra time you have spent doing non-productive things in the office. The one benefit you will get from doing all of this is that you will know how to handle these things when and if you someday have your own practice. I have had to handle these things as an owner (this is another stress of ownership). However, if you are routinely handling these things as an associate you are being taken advantage of. Unfortunately, this seems to come with the territory of being an associate but you have a right to speak up and ask for what you deserve. Believe it or not, it is not that easy for them to replace you -especially if you are a hard worker (which it sounds like you are) so they may be willing to pay you more to compensate for these things. Try to work out the best arrangement possible but understand that as long as you are as associate you will have certain disadvantages. Some dentists actually prefer working as associates because they don’t want the stress of having their own business.
          You also mentioned that your spouse is not being very supportive. Through the years I have had a few heart to heart discussions with my husband to explain how stressful things were for me. I found it to be too much to work as a dentist full time and raise a family. I had a partner buy into my practice and now I work 3 days per week. He was not happy about losing some income but he did finally understand how difficult things were for me trying to manage the practice and our family. You may need to have serious discussion with your husband and let him know how you feel and see what you two can work out that makes the most sense for your finances. It is hard being a mom and being a dentist too!!

        2. Blue Heron, working only 3 days per week as an owner sounds fantastic. Given this is anonymous, would you mind saying how much your net salary (pre-tax) is per year doing this?

    2. Hi Confused,
      I think we can all feel your pain. So sorry to hear you are going through this. I credit some of my dissatisfaction in the career on a series of bad jobs that scarred me for life! 😉 I agree with the others– if you don’t have a plan to change careers, I would definitely find another job. It’s so hard and stressful, but it will be worth it.

      I also think it sounds like owning your own practice is not a good idea at this time. You will only feel more trapped by it because you won’t be able to walk away as easily. Please keep us posted and don’t hesitate to reach out if you need help, advice, guidance, etc…

  68. Confused – your situation sounds terrible. THREE hygiene checks an hour? How can you be expected to do any quality work on patients when you have to constantly get up and down to check the hygiene patients? Maybe you should look for another office… not all associates are treated the way as you are. There are numerous problems with your work environment (obviously), but you can’t continue at this pace and put stress on your family relationships in addition to yourself. If you are unable to make that huge leap of changing careers right now, I really believe you need to find another office, or at least talk to the owners and tell them that you cannot continue in the manner you are now. It is dangerous health situation. Best wishes to you.

    1. I second that. When you throw all the negatives into the pot, you quickly reach boiling point. Good riddance

  69. Between this blog and DentalTown, I am both surprised and encouraged to see how many people are willing to admit their dissatisfaction with dentistry, and the struggles they’ve had. I think it’s so important to tell others what’s going on inside, even if it’s not what they want to hear.

    Treating patients is an emotional roller-coaster for me. I’ve had many, many sleepless nights from wondering if I made the right decision, anticipating delivering a case, dealing with complications — you name it. I have been in private practice for three years now, with the way it’s going so far I don’t see how I’m going to make it to 30+ years in this profession. I tell myself “it will get better” and, especially, “you won’t have to do this forever” on a daily basis.

    I’ve picked up a lot of good advice from DentalTown on improving job satisfaction — work fewer days, try new procedures, get a hobby, exercise more, eat a better diet, etc. These changes do work — I cut my days from six days a week, down to four. This has been a huge improvement.

    But sometimes I wonder if all the meditation and counseling and jumping jacks in the world will not be able to change the fact that I don’t really enjoy this job, and possibly never will. It really sucks to say that about something I spent over eight years of my life working towards. There clearly is no easy way out here.

    My plan is to simplify as much as possible, live below my means financially, and stick to the dentistry I’m comfortable with. If, after ten years, I still feel the same way, I’m going to start looking seriously at other options. Dentistry, in itself, is a worthwhile career. It has been more challenging than I expected at every turn. Some thrive on this challenge, but I suspect that many are turned off by it. I plan to give it at least ten years. If I still feel then the same way I do now, I’m looking for a way out!

    I’m just so grateful I had this blog to turn to for advice so early on in my career. Thanks to everyone who posted here.

    1. Hey Texas Doc!
      Glad you found us here. I started deciding I hated dentistry at about 3 years in too. 6 days a week! Can’t imagine. Glad you have found 4 days to be an improvement. That helped me for a while. Eventually I was down to 3 days a week which is actually a great schedule. But it was still pretty hard to appreciate it because eventually I just needed out. There is no easy way out, but if you really want it and find a way to do it, the road will be well worth it. Simplifying is a good way to start. I’d definitely advise against getting shackled in those golden handcuffs. That will only make it harder. Good luck and keep us posted. If you haven’t seen it, I have written a lot about my process, and you might find it helpful to read those posts. Best to you!

    2. Texas Doc – Glad you found this site. It has been very helpful to me in many ways. I know what you mean about Dental Town as well — it is encouraging to hear that others struggle with certain aspects of practice that we were never taught in dental school.

      Keep on your plan to leave in ten years — don’t let go of that goal. After doing this for 32 years, my plan to leave in 2 years is at the forefront of my mind every day that I go into the office. Although I really do enjoy seeing many of the patients I’ve known for all these years, I won’t allow myself to be deterred by that thought.

      Case in point: Just yesterday I got a page from a patient — 4:30 on a Friday afternoon (our office isn’t even open on Fridays) — his daughter having a toothache. He said he was heading right over to the office with her in case I was there. Since there was no way I could even get to the office for over two hours, my business partner made a special trip in to treat the patient (since he lives closer). The thing is, the child has been seeing a pedodontist for the last two years. Why didn’t they call them?? Are we supposed to be an emergency room, open 24 hours a day? So even though there have been many positive aspects to this career, the lack of freedom during the “off-hours” is ridiculous. It is stressful enough during regular office hours (I worry about the exact same things that you do, TexasDoc) — it is unhealthy to be ‘on edge’ and having to deal wih situations like this when the office isn’t even open.

      The day I leave this profession is getting closer and closer…. luckily time seems to be moving faster! (Of course, I’ll then want time to move as slow as molasses. LOL).

      All the best to you!

    3. Dentistry is by far the worst profession to undertake. I don’t have the time to write an entire book as to why I know this.

      1. I second that. After twelve years of dreading waking up every morning, I’m glad it’s over. From patients, to the stress of practice and overhead, taxes, physical exhaustion, insurances, and just plain impossible standards, yes, the profession leaves much to be desired

  70. H (kinda funny when you think about iti! Love your blog by the way! I have a question that I am asking, mainly on behalf of a friend. I have a friend who wants to become a dentist, but they have a lot of disadvantages against them. For example, they hafve a GED and received a misdemeanor for stealing a bicycle. Do they still have a chance to somehpw redeem themselves and get into dental school?

    1. Thanks, Olivia! I don’t really know how a misdemeanor like that affects the chances of getting in, but a college degree is definitely needed. I’m sure if your friend gets a college degree and keeps the record tidy, that they will still stand a chance.

  71. dave m. thanks problem is I been working so hard fro so long big business big office ,

    43 staff 15 dentists don’t know what to do with myself …after working so long any ideas .

    1. Damn if that were me and I was done with the profession I would just sell the practice and travel around, pick up new hobbies, etc. but to each their own

  72. After 32 years, I’m ready to retire NOW! But I plan to stick it out for another year and a half. This year is already flying by (no one can believe that it is July already) — so my official “last day of dentistry” is not too far off. In answer to the question of what you will do when you retire, I can only tell you what one of my patients told me when they retired…. “I do whatever I want!”.

    Funny, it seems like a significant number of our patients have retired in the past year…. and they all have one thing in common…. smiles on their faces, all the time.

    1. I hate being a dentist. Always have. It’s not me,…….. it’s the public and their lack of respect for dentists nowadays (even though we do better work today than ever), the insurance industry, the expense and debt that never goes away, the economy, the legal pressures, the competition is too high, the hatred towards dentists, the inability to take a real vacation from it all, the stress, the wear on family relationships, sticking people in the mouth with needles all day and hearing the hateful comments towards the dentist…..I mean, I must have been out of my mind to think this job would make me happy.

  73. Its real hard to practice after 45. It’s physically and mentally a brutal career that burns you out and makes you neurotic

    1. I,m not qiute neurotic yet , but struggling with what to do after dentistry it has rung me out ,
      I feel battered by both the job the regulators and the public so what dio I do now?

      1. What do you enjoy? Would you want to teach like CategoryIII suggested, or do you want out of the field entirely. I think that after 44 years, the world is your oyster, and you just need to figure out what you like.

        1. Totally agree, lolabees and category III. My answer was meant to be kind of funny and over-simplified…but then again, NOT. I mean, my patient was making a joke of sorts, but the more I thought about it, there was more seriousness to it than I first realized.

          The world becomes wide open — a chance to pursue many other interests, some which may offer compensation, some which may not. After all, we each only have a finite time on this planet, so why put off doing things you’ve waited years to have time to do?

          For example… I really like to write, and in the past couple of years have been lucky enough to have two of my short stories published by a reputable publishing company (and have actually gotten paid for it!). I guarantee I will be doing more of that. I love landscaping and outdoor work, and will be doing more of that as well, perhaps even for other people. I will most likely also volunteer in situations where I interact with people, which is a necessity for me. I also want to do something where I am still making a difference in other peoples’ lives (in some capacity), as I feel I have done with dentistry.

          This is just the tip of the iceberg… the possibilities are endless! If you look hard enough you will find your own personal interests and curiosities which will become your passions.

  74. I stumbled across your blog here ironically while searching Google for “Other jobs that a dentist is good at”!! I’ve been in practice 28 years and recently sold my practice. Why…..I couldn’t stand it anymore. Now I struggle to bring myself to work 2 days a week as a independent contractor. Sad part is, I never wanted to do anything else but be a dentist. At 4 yo, my mother would put a blanket over a card table and I would pretend it was my office! I graduated from one of the most prestigious dental schools in the US, graduated 3rd in my class of 158 with many awards. Eventually, I received my FAGD, MAGD and FICOI awards and recognized as a premier practitioner in my state. I’ve lectured on occasion for several companies and taught at a dental school. You’d think that I was “into” the profession; for outward appearances, I’m sure it seemed so. Unfortunately the years took their toll on me, physically and emotionally. I eventually realized I was attempting to replace the monotony, the boredom and the lack of patient appreciation for of procedures with increasingly diverse skill sets. Moreover the insurance world is and has morphed closer and closer to medicine that I can now relate to the decline of primary care physicians. Not to mention compensation was not linearly parallel to expenses. Why is it that rent, electric, water, insurance, license fees, dues…….you get my point can be increased but reimbursements are NOT WITHIN THE USUAL AND CUSTOMARY RANGE for my area!!!! Bull!! My neck no longer can rotate as far to the right as left, my back aches quickly where I dread the contortion that my common 2 – 3 hour procedures would require. I’m embarrassed that I can become impatient so easily by patients that aren’t “easy” to treat. For Pete Sake, they’re people and are human.

    So you may ask…..why did I stay in so long? Well …… what else could I do for work? We are ridiculously trained to do a specific application in a state and a federally controlled environment. In other words, where was the same “cross-training” of us that we demanded of our staff? I still have 2 kids to put through college. Retirement finances seem to be in-line …… but who the H3LL knows! No teacher, fire or police union to guarantee a pension here. I don’t want to be a couch potato and drink to pass the time either. Soooooo….alas I’m searching for other jobs. Ironically though, I don’t seem to possess the skills to meet the minimum requirements! I called a recruiter the other day; he said I needed to get sales experience before he would consider me for a sales position. Cripes, I had to “sell” dentistry to people for almost 30 years! Every successful dentist knows rule #1 = convert “need to want”.

    Well, I’m ranting I suspect. So I just want to say thank you for this blog. Maybe I should have logged in as “Frustrated”.

    1. I find your story fascinating because so many people think that dentists who dislike our jobs are unsuccessful or failures, and you are another example proving that it’s just not true. I think there are a lot more people like you– people who’ve had successful careers– who have burnt out or become unhappy and chase knowledge to keep it fresh. It’s a good way to make the best of it, but at some point, it isn’t enough. It’s hard to face making a change because as you say, we aren’t really trained for anything else. I hope you find a great alternative and can hang up your handpiece for good. I know I feel like a different person now that I don’t have to do this anymore, and I know you will too! Dentists hate this, but we are the best sales people around– selling exactly what people don’t want to buy. 😉

  75. Well, hello to everyone and I must admit, it has been quite the rollercoaster to reach this point in your blog lolabees! A lot of flustration, despair, passion for change… so many mixed feelings have been expressed. Thank you for this experience all of you!

    Please let me introduce myself. I am 35, with an electrical and computer engineering degree, master in telecommunications and post-graduate studies in biomedical engineering. I have been working for a big hospital for 6 years now, and since last year I have been promoted as the head of technical services which I thought would be my dream job. I am responsible now for the whole electro/mechanical/biomedical infrastructure of the hospital that has the capacity of 700 beds/patients, 30 ICU beds and 8 surgical rooms.

    I grew up wanting to become an engineer, I really enjoyed my studies and I was a top student. I also love medical related knowledge, and I really enjoyed my biomedical studies as well. In the past 11 years that have passed I have been involved in project management, design of electromechanical infrastructures, software development and I ended up in the hospital I am currently working. I get little satisfaction from my work. The job is to expect only bad things to happen randomly and rarely do I receive gratitude, only complaints. I am at times very stressed!

    So, long story short, I decided to change my career and go for dentistry. My partner is also a dentist and the plan is to have our own office together some time in the future. Last year I studied hard for the exams necessary to be admitted in the dental school and currently I am waiting for the results. If I am accepted I am determined to go for it. After all there are no student fees in my country (the public education is free!! ) and I have managed to save enough the past few years to make a decent living throughout my studies.

    From what all you respectable people have shared in this blog, I realized how hard must it be to start a career with such a huge dept. This alone can make someone a hater. Moreover the pressure to reach a specific target is inhuman and a very good reason to be a hater too.. But a dentist is above all a doctor with a moral obligation to serve for the health of our fellow human being. Dentists take the Hippocratic oath, what they do is not merely a profession. Dentists must have high ethical standards and live by this! It is so noble to ease the pain of someone, to contribute to someone’s happiness and well-being, and I believe that if for any reason (stress/financial/boss-related) this noble pleasure is stripped away, it will have eventually it’s impact in the soul, and there is your soul grinder, the frustration, the depression.

    Having the capacity to be a dentist, does not make you a better person than the ignorant patient that is full of shit. Maybe life was very hard on him, maybe he needs special treatment and understanding. All dentists and physicians, should invest more in human psychology. Imagine what would happen if a psychiatrist got personally involved with all his patients!!!

    Bottom line, there is no magic solution. Every job needs skills, patience and love. Moreover it is wrong to rely solely on your job to get satisfaction and in most cases this reveals a gap in other parts of life. You can brainwash yourself negatively as well as positively! To try to reach perfection and happiness, is what everybody should be doing, but it is one thing to try and another to be consumed-obsessed by it. There is no black and white here but infinite shades of gray.

    Have a great year, with strength, luck and wisdom for positive change!

    1. Hi Cris,
      Thanks for your input. It’s very thoughtful, and it sounds like you have thought a lot about what you want, and you will be great at it. Where are you from? Keep us posted on your progress!

      1. Hello Lolabees, I finally got my results and I am in!

        So officially I am a dent student! I must admit I have many mixed feelings about this, but as the time passes I feel more and more confident about it. It is going to be hard financially but I am really glad that I have been given this opportunity and I feel strongly that in the long term this is for the best.

        To answer your question, I am from Greece and probably as you may have heard, things are pretty bleak for a very long time now, with no prospect of improvement soon. I hope, by the time I become a dentist, things will start to get better.

        Thank you for your kind words,
        Best Wishes

        1. Congrats, Cris! I know you have thought long and hard about this, and I’m sure it will be a great fit for you. I hope things get better for your economy too! It’s so great to hear from you all the way from Greece!! Again, congrats, and I wish you a lot of luck and please continue to share your journey with us!

        1. Very true! You know, there are ERs for people with medical emergencies. Why not the same for dentists? Many dentists are on call 24/7… what’s up with that? A life like that kills relationships. And the feeling of never being able to escape from work… NOT healthy. I’m so glad I am transitioning into another field, after being in practice for nearly 33 years.

  76. Hi Lolabees. I love how you reply to each of the comments. As I write this, I’m going through a very weird depressed phase in life. My story here is the opposite. All my life till A levels, I never figured out what I actually wanted to do. I was a bright kid and took sciences because I wanted to keep my options open. When I was in A2 (grade 12), after a lot of thinking I figured I will do dentistry because I had braces when I was in grade 7, I liked the money the profession offered and I thought working with teeth would be pretty cool and that I’d be a good dentist. I loved sciences in O Level, I didnt like Sciences in A level though and hated math(Calculus). I’ve always known I dont want to become a doctor because hospitals, NO! I live in Pakistan, and over here after A level, which is grade 12, you directly start med school for 4 years after which you can become a dentist, basically 16 years of education to become a dentist, including 4 med years. As a backup, I applied for Accounting and Finance in my country’s top ranked university and got accepted. I never had expereince with Accounting and finance but thought I’d be fine with it. I applied as a backup because private medical education was really expensive and competition for state run med school is fierce and getting in is pretty difficult. So yea, I didnt get into the state run med school which was my first priority but got easily into a private med school but the fee was too high. So I just accepted Accounting and finance as a career although I wanted to become a dentist. My parents were willing to send me to a private med school although it would have been a huge huge burden and i didnt want to be one. 3 months into uni, I was given the option of going to med school for dentistry. I was extremely confused and because I was happy with my new studies I let dentistry go. I was fine but 2 years into uni, I feel so alienated and regret my choice. I’m 20. I’ve been obsessing over dentistry for months now and deeply regret my choice. I see future finance courses and they intimiate me extremely, like man, this is not who I am. The corporate sector is so stressful and I get scared about the future. Idk, every one tells me to forget about dentistry and even I’m afraid that what if I switch and dont find it as good as my mind tells me it is. My parents have been so supportive but now if I explode the bomb after 2 years that im not happy then they’d be too worried. And I dont even know if they will agree to med school now because I have been responsible for all my decisons. I just dont know. I had forgone dentistry 2 years earlier because I liked my university and studies and thought what if I dont like med school, what if I feel trapped there. Now, dentistry is all what I can think of. That is how I came across your blog. Even now, I have too many what ifs about a career change. I know dentistry is super expensive. I want to practice abroad but not even sure if that would be possible. I just dont want to be unsuccessful because i have always believed in myself but the depression is making it otherwise. I do want to change but am unsure of the consequences. Many people say be happy with what you are doing right now, it will all be fine, you are doing good but I dont know!

    Thing is, I just want to be successful and if finance makes me that and I am good at it, I’m happy. But i havent explored it much yet and looking at the future couses makes me think I wouldnt be good at it.

    1. Hi Maira, Isn’t it funny that you commented on how I reply to everyone’s comments on my blog, and then I completely missed yours?!? So sorry, but now I see it! Happens every once in a while. 😉

      Sounds like you’re in a bit of a predicament. The challenge is that you may never know whether you like a career or not until you try it. One of the reasons I stayed in dentistry so long was that I never wanted to commit to any other schooling for fear I would hate it too. Based on your comment, it sounds like you might not like finance, but it also sounds like you are worried you will fail or won’t be good at it. The corporate world is a tough one, but so is dentistry! They are both hard for different reasons, although I can’t speak for finance and corporate. You may find the same fear of failure in dentistry. So, I would choose whatever makes you happiest. One other thought… I don’t know how it is in other countries, but in the US, you have to train in a US school. So, many people with degrees from other countries have to go to dental school AGAIN once they get here!!

      I wish I could tell you that one career will make you happier than the other, but as you know, we have no way of knowing. Keep us posted on what you decide, and maybe some of my awesome contributors have some thoughts for you. 😉

  77. Hi Lolabees,
    I am currently in year 11 and thinking of perusing a career in dentistry and was wondering how much blood is involved with the profession as on occasions i have not dealt with blood too well. I currently and doing the subjects appropriate to a career in dentistry and am very interested in dentistry so will this affect anything or is it something you get used to voer time? if not is there any way to overcome this.

    Thanks,
    Harrison

    1. Hi Harrison,
      There definitely is some blood, and in order to get through dental school, you have to do your share of extractions. So… you really can’t avoid it. However, you do get used to it. The first 2 times I ever witnessed surgery, I thought I was going to faint. I never thought it would bother me, so I was surprised to have that reaction. Shortly after, I became desensitized to it. Good luck! Let me know what you decide to do! You could always observe some surgeries and see how you do!

  78. US dentist here. Graduated in 2014. Dental school wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. When I graduated, the work just seemed nerve wrecking. Maybe I just don’t have what it takes clinically or maybe I am just too anxious with a large number of patients, procedures, and things that can go wrong (scheduling, labs, etc). Work hasn’t been easy to come by given saturation where I live and the work that pays will probably remove a couple years from my life. Never made a lot, because I like control over my life (impossible I know) and dentistry is a field where if crap hits the fan, it really hits the fan. I’m looking into programming right now because I’m somewhat introverted and enjoyed it in college but went for dentistry to chase the “big money.” I know deep down this feels good and right, something that I never felt starting the whole dentistry process, but I still feel like a “quitter.” I don’t mention it to classmates as I don’t know if they’ll understand. But I’m pressing through and enjoying the ride and new perspective.

    1. Your story sounds so familiar. I think a lot of people here would agree with what you’ve experienced. Good for you that you’re pursuing other interests. That is the only way you’ll ever create change. It may not happen right away, but it will happen if you keep going for it. And… I hid my true feelings about dentistry for many years, but once I started writing and talking openly about it, I realized that many others felt the same way. When you do start to talk about it, you’ll see that others actually think you are more courageous for leaving than for staying.

    2. I hear (see) a tone in your writing. You seem sad and feeling somet failure issues. Definitely, make the change as long as you are certain that you are not “quitting” too soon. That is not to say that anyone else is to judge how long you take to decide. If it’s now….perfect. But just be sure. If sure…..don’t delay. Dentistry has provided me a good income….because I WAS passionate and gave the 120% it demands. But, now so glad to be out. Don’t tell your classmates what you’re thinking. Most won’t sympathize and will only alienate you. I retired early, due to neck, back and fed up with the profession issues. My classmates, most still practicing, are clearly jealous but also imply a disdain since I did it before them. Yet, we/they all bitc#@$ and moan about the work, patients, bureaucracy and reduction in respect.

  79. Mike – I wish you all the best. It is great you are pursuing this. I can totally identify with what you are saying. I posted some of my own experiences on this fantastic blog last year. I’ve been in the field a lot longer than you (in my 34th year now), and although there have been some great rewards (and I don’t mean financially), it undoubtedly takes a toll on a person. I am planning to be completely out of it by next year at this time. I don’t regret anything, but I realize that dentistry is not my passion. And even though I am a very young 59-year old, the reality is that I am most likely in the final quarter of my life. I am ok with that — but I am NOT ok with someday being on my deathbed with a list of passions I never had the chance to pursue… because I was too “ashamed” or fearful of what people would think about me leaving dentistry. So I applaud you for having the courage to do what you are doing at this point in your life. All the best to you my friend!

  80. Hey Mike —

    I really admire you for being honest with yourself at this stage of your journey. You won’t regret it. I completely understand. My situation is a lot like yours, except that I have been in the field much longer than you… in my 34th year now. But I see the light at the end of the tunnel approaching VERY soon. I think you are experiencing the same thing as me.

    A few quick points:

    – Dental school was totally different than the “real-life” dental world. Although school wasn’t easy, there was a certain camaraderie among all of us which made it tolerable, and almost fun. All of the stresses you mention in your post are 100% accurate.

    – I was at a required CE course a few days ago, and met a dentist who retired three years ago. He confirmed the stresses that we all feel from being in private practice — but he said something which will now forever stick with me: “You don’t realize how stressful this career is, and the toll it takes on your physical and mental health, until you leave it.” I can completely see that. That is something that I will now be repeating every day,… even when I think, “well, maybe I could work a few more years….”.

    – I understand what you mean about not wanting to mention your change of careers to classmates. I kind of have the same problem. I am surrounded by people who are in the health care field who feel that they must work until they take their last breath — including my business partner (another dentist, and a good friend). My current struggle is trying to work up the courage to tell him and all my patients that it is time for me to leave (like you, I am somewhat introverted). That aspect really sucks.

    – The friends of mine from dental school class who joined the military and have now retired, are continuously smiling — all because of retirement! That alone says something very profound to me.

    I wish you all the best. Keep us posted — your story sounds very inspiring!

  81. Hi, im a 16 year old Senior in High School and I’ve dreamt about becoming a dentist for quite some time now. I have no problem being inside people’s mouth and I like teeth. I plan to shadow a dentist office during the summer. However, researching into the career a lot more, there is quite A LOT of science i have to take (especially biology). Im okay with chemistry, but the thing is im not very interested in Science. :/ . Im pretty good with math though…Does anyone have any advice for me, and what I should do or reconsider ?

    1. Hi Tan,
      I would do more exploration of dentistry itself. You might find that if you like the field, that the science you don’t really apply is only the first year of school, and you might like the science that you can apply to dentistry. Make sense? The practical everyday part of dentistry is much more about people and the art of dentistry vs. mitochondria and ATP.

  82. Hi, I really enjoyed reading the honest and realistic remarks about dentistry! I ,myself, have been practicing for 16 years in Canada. I’ve been struggling with the decision to sell my practice as it was a challenge to finally have the right team, the right patients and the compensation that came along with it. My issue with dentistry is not the work or the patients or the staff. I love it all! I love the creativity and the constant change in this field. After 16 years of working and teaching, I could say i have become quite good at it. I’ve even developed ‘thick’ skin and have been lucky to be able tell rude and unappreciative patients that they are being in fact rude and unappreciative! I didn’t care if they decided to leave as it wasn’t worth my health and stress.
    The sad and unfortunate issue I have with dentistry is the toll it has taken on my back. I am only 42. I work out regularly, eat healthy, in good physical shape, but my rheumatologist says I have bad mechanical problem in my midback that is incurable and will only worsen if I continue dentistry. I can honestly say I have tried everything out there from going on anti-inflammatory diets, meds, daily exercise, private training, physio, osteo, massages. Etc… nothing seems to work. I try hard to maintain proper posture but everyone knows that most often you wanna make sure every detail has been accounted for and that would invariably put your body in awkward positions. I also do lots of Complex cases which adds a lot of mental stress to the physical. I cried a lot when I realized that after I’ve finally achieved my dream team and practice, I will have to sell it and quit dentistry completely. I decided that I love life more than I love dentistry. I have to admit that I can’t shake the feeling that when I will finally sell and stop dentistry, people will label me as ‘weak’. I have told a few people about the pain I’ve been going through and their first reaction is: “everyone has back pain… just do some abs”. I want to scream when I hear this as not all pain is the same. I am trying hard to stay strong and ignore those insensitive comments. I hope I will find another career path that will be as fulfilling as dentistry has been for me.i have some ideas about plan b but first I need to focus on finding the right dentist to take over my practice.
    This is a challenging career and takes years to hone skill and experience both in patient and business management. i believe in order to be really happy in it, you need to have a hobby outside of dentistry. Balancing it all is really the key to reducing the high level of stress you are under.
    I am so glad to have found this blog as it’s so refreshing to share our good and bad experiences in dentistry. Thank you Lolabees!!

    1. Sue, I’m so glad to hear you’ve loved this career and found it to be so rewarding. I’m so sorry that it is taking such a toll on your body. People don’t understand just how much of a tool it takes. Definitely don’t listen to those insensitive comments. Too many people insert their own beliefs and opinions where they don’t belong… not sure why we do that. I love your attitude and your positivity. I know you will find something else you love to do. I hope you’ll share that with us when the time comes. Good luck, and I love your advice about having a hobby and balance in this career. That’s what I was missing when I felt so stuck! Keep us posted, and good luck!

    2. Dear Sue,

      I’ve spent the morning reading through messages on this site, which is such a fantastic resource, and I have just stopped at yours.

      I found your post refreshing to read and the love that you have for your practice really landed. In addition, I was saddened to hear of your current spinal issues.

      I practiced dentistry for eleven years before changing career path several years ago. Worked hard at it, was good at it but I was pulled in a different direction and so I decided to follow the beat of my drum so to speak. Being honest, I didn’t find the transition easy and whilst I was focused on pursuing my dreams I experienced much vulnerability, confusion, and inner conflict, etc. I’m super grateful for the skills and experiences I gained in dentistry and also for the lessons gained thereafter.

      I had multiple lower spinal surgeries pre-dentistry and whilst I’m assuming you’ve possible tried many of these already I thought I would share some of the resources which supported me during my time in the dental arena:-
      – Wearing loupes (2-5-3.3X) with fiber optic or LED
      – Saddle chair
      – Removing acidic foods/drinks from diet = alkaline food/drink based diet; food sensitivity test (via blood work) with supplementation
      – Regular acupuncture
      – Core stabilization – pilates reformer classes etc. Fantastic!
      – An outlet for stress allowing my nervous system to recalibrate. E.g. regular meditative practice – note: this could also be an active meditative practice like swimming or running versus my sitting practice

      Sending my best wishes to you on the next part of your journey in whatever direction that may take you.

      Warmest

      Dave Wilson

  83. HI Lola Bees!
    So glad I came across your blog! I am a first grade teacher but I have recently started contemplated becoming a dentist. I love kids but I don’t think the classroom is the correct environment for me. I enjoy my job a lot more when I am teaching small group or one-on-one. I started thinking about pediatric dentistry because I would still be able to work with kids, Ive always been intrigued by teeth, and Id be able to make difference in people’s lives. With this being said, I wanted to gain more knowledge on the process of dental school. Is there any other information you could share with me?

    1. Hi Lilly, glad to hear from you! How exciting that you are thinking about a career change. I think pediatric dentistry is a great avenue to explore. With dental school specifically, you need to have the prerequisite courses to get in– when I went it was chem, organic chem, biology, physics, some math and some English. That may have changed and may depend on the school too. Then you have to take the DAT, which are the standardized entrance exams. All that before you get accepted! I bet there are some better, more comprehensive resources out there for you to answer these types of questions. Maybe start by looking at the schools in your state and see what they have to say on their websites. If you have questions about the career and what it’s like, you could probably get a few different opinions here (from me and others.) Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

    2. Hi Lilly –

      Wishing you all the best in your endeavor. Just something I think is worth mentioning… I’ve been in practice for 35 years (this, actually, will be my final year). During that time, I have seen a LOT of kids as patients, and it has been quite rewarding. For some reason, kids seem to gravitate to me, and they like coming to see me. Often they never even realize they have been given a “shot” (as verified by their parents), which makes the experience even better. The reason I am mentioning all this is that you may not necessarily want to become a pedodontist, but instead, become part of a group practice where you would be the general dentist who treats children. It seems like the pedodontists mainly get the children who are really difficult to treat. I would guess that we refer less than 5% of our child patients to a pediatric dentist. The 95% that we do treat at our office are really good and easy to manage. I believe that the pediatric specialty is another 2 years after the 4 years of dental school. Good luck to you!

  84. Hi my name is Lola and I’m a senior in High School I’m leaning towards becoming an Orthodontist I was just wondering how long it’s going to take me to get there and if I’m going to end up tired of being a Dentist.

    Thank You!

    1. Hi Lola, It’ll take 4 years of college, 4 years of dental school, and then 2-3 years of ortho school. You might end up tired of being a dentist, but since we are all so different, I don’t know the answer to that. Unfortunately you might not either until you get there! It will be easier to stay engaged if it is something you really want to do and enjoy doing.

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