Why to not choose dentistry

There are lots of really good reasons to become a dentist, and those are covered in my ‘Why to Choose Dentistry’ article. However, there are also lots of reasons why you should not become a dentist. These are listed below.

Amount of Schooling

Being a dentist requires a huge commitment of time and money. You will be in school for three to four years to get an undergraduate bachelor’s degree. Then, there is another four years at a dental school. And if you want to specialize, as in something like endodontics or orthodontics, it could be another three years. This can add up to between 7 and 11 years of school. If you choose dentistry through all this time, your friends and colleagues will already have established their lives with jobs, homes and incomes.

Debt Accumulation

You can also expect to accumulate a significant amount of debt. Here is a table showing the debt that most dental students owed upon graduation. You can expect to owe anywhere between $100,000 and $300,000. You will be paying ~6.5% interest on most of this money during dental school, and when you graduate.

Average dental student debt from all schools

Table shows average dental student debt from all schools, (source ADA website)

Competition and Hard Work

Dental school is getting harder and harder to get into. The path is becoming more competitive, as more students try to get in. You have to expect now to have a better GPA in college and get better scores on the DAT test. Because of the challenge, there is the chance that you may find out that dentistry is not right for you or that you don’t have the grades to compete and make it into dental school.

For this reason, I would recommend choosing an undergraduate degree that you enjoy- something that makes you happy. That way, no matter what happens, you will end your four year bachelor’s degree with something you can use in your life.

Also, during the four years of dental school you can expect lots of hard work. It is stressful and will keep you very busy. You can click here to see what dental school is like.

Expensive Practices

Starting up a practice is expensive. If you think graduating with $100,000-300,000 in debt is bad, wait until you decide to buy or set up your own practice. This can cost anywhere between $300,000 and $500,000. You will have to make sure you can get loans, and there is a lot of stress associated with this type of an activity. You can also go out and work for another dentist, but sometimes finding these positions can be challenging.

Additionally, when you first graduate from dental school, you are going to be slower than a seasoned dentist. This will make it harder for you to earn more money and will make paying off all of your loans even more challenging.


Common instruments used by a dentist

Common instruments used by a dentist

Repetition of Job

Another reason to not becoming a dentist is because of the repetition of the job. Dentists do a lot of the same things over and over again. You will have to make sure this is right for you, that you can handle doing lots of the same activities over and over again each day.



Difficult to move

Another challenge is that it is difficult to relocate or move. Once you establish or purchase a practice, it is very expensive to move around. You become situated in one area and may spend the rest of your life living there.

Managed care

We cannot predict the future, but it is wise to consider what could happen. Managed care is spreading worldwide and may grow into dentistry. Managed care is when organizations like an insurance company or the government manage health care. One of the joys of current dentistry is the ability to own your own practice; managed care could potentially change this. Managed care hasn’t completely moved into dentistry, but in the future it could possibly happen.

Physically Demanding

Dentistry is hard on your body. Expect to sit in the same position, staring in small, tiny spaces all day. It is really hard on your back, hands and shoulders. Lots of dentists have back and shoulder problems. You will spend a lot of time washing or rewashing your hands and wearing latex gloves. People can develop back problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, or latex allergies. During my work I have experienced back pain and shoulder pain. A few of my colleagues are already seeing chiropractors or physical therapists.

Sharp Instruments, Needle Sticks and Contagious Disease

Some of the sharp instruments used in dentistry

Some of the sharp instruments used in dentistry

Most people don’t realize it, but dentists work with very sharp instruments in dentistry. There are needles, scalpel blades and high speed diamond tipped burs. It is rare, but like any job accidents can happen.

There a multiple blood borne disease which your patients might have, like HIV (AIDS) and Hepatitis C. If you stick yourself with a bur or needle which you used in a patients mouth, you become at risk for getting these life threatening disease.

The risk of needle-sticks is low, and the risk of having a contagious patients is low, and even if it happens the risk of actually getting the disease from a minor prick is low. But it still can happen which makes this another down side of the job. If a dentist catches one of these blood borne disease his/her career is over.

Emotionally Demanding

The patients you work with aren’t usually happy and will express unease or discomfort in visiting you, which can create a significant emotional demand. People hate waiting, hate going to the dentist and hate pain. You have to sort these mixed emotions out and try to help them. All while managing a stressful schedule as you work, trying to please people and get your jobs done.

Demands of managing a business

The dentist has demands of managing a business. Along with being the main provider of your practice, you will also have to run it. This means you will have to do such things as hire and fire people, manage money, set fees, deal with frustrated customers, and avoid fraud and embezzlement. You are the business owner and the entrepreneur, but you are also the main employee. You will have to be able to balance multiple roles running a dental practice.

Lack of Benefits

If you choose to own your own practice you will not have designated benefits from an employer. The only benefits you are going to get are the benefits that you will give yourself. This means that if you aren’t able to save money early on and invest properly, you might end up working longer than people who have an organized retirement plan.

In any profession there are going to be challenges and problems, including reasons not to enter into that field. These are some of the big ones that I have observed from multiple dentists. Knowing the bad points is valuable and can help you make the right choice. But remember there are also lots of benefits and advantages in becoming a dentist.

27 thoughts on “Why to not choose dentistry

  1. Hello everyone, I am a 20 year old enlisted soldier in the US Army. I am considering a career in dentistry and have absolutely no idea of where I should start. I am currently serving 1 year of a 5 year contract as a IT specialist for the Army. I have many concerns about taking on this profession. Is it worth it? How much debt will I acquire if I choose the cheapest schools and are there any Army programs that I am unaware about to help pay for school. Paying for school is my most concern.

  2. I agree mostly with Dave above. I have been practicing for twelve years and became disabled because of this profession. We are respected about as much as barbers (who are not hated). The real learned professions don’t take us seriously or consider us colleagues. The student loans make it all but impossible to practice ethically. Try doing that or being “honest” with your treatment plan and good luck to you in living a decent life. Corporate chains know the indebtedness of students so they prey on their desperation. Read any reviews of Aspen Dental and let me tell you, it doesn’t feel right to be hated and disrespected by people on Yelp.com or websites set up to sue these entities. All those years of school to become a technician are depressing. If you make even $150k, it’s not worth it. The stress and heart attacks and suicide is not worth it. You will strain your family and relationships, you will become neurotic, your staff and patients will hate you, and you will become depressed. You quickly realize that the myth of a “good dentist” is just that; you can be the best with your hands but cannot avoid a restoration failing due to working in a wet environment or the patient moves around, complains, bites down, or chews on rocks at home. There is nothing rewarding about this career. I’d rather make $60k and be happy than miserable, suicidal, and psychotic. And that’s what will become of you after thirty years

  3. I am an undergraduate student majoring in biology. I am interested in dentistry, but I mostly chose the career field because of the lifestyle that it can provide for me. I don’t aspire to open my own practice. I would rather work for Veterans Affairs or in a setting where I don’t have to deal with the business side of dentistry. My dad thinks that I should just become a medical doctor. Should I listen to him?

    • Hi Tiarra,

      I would not advise going into dentistry for the lifestyle. There are plenty of jobs out there which pay well and offer a flexible lifestyle. Also, if you have no intention of opening your own practice your income will not be very high, especially if you consider your starting debt. I would focus on what makes you happy.

      Dentistry can be very frustrating, it takes certain types of people to fit well in this field. I suggest you find a dentist in your area and try to work with him/her for a few months. This will help you discover if you are a good fit.

    • No! Do not go into dentistry. It is the most stressful and unrewarding profession you could get into. I hate it and am stuck in this profession because of the financial trap it causes. You will be hated and despised by patients, you will develop a lot of ex-friends, and your own family will begin to look down on you as the pressure and demands of dentistry wear you thin, and the list goes on and on.
      Go into anything but dentistry. I’m not being facititious or joking.

      • I second that. It is nothing like medicine. You get no respect from patients or other professions , have to sell your services (something school never tells you is 90% is elective) , get to fight for meager insurance compensation, and fight for the low copays due from patients who think insurance should pay for everything , like medical insurance. I sold my office, quitting after eleven years of the worst stress you can imagine.

  4. Dave,
    You’re comments are on the money. I wish there was internet in 1994 and I could have ready that before spending 4 years and 260K on dental school. I still owe almost 100K. With the taxes I have to pay, with the way loans repayment/interest are set up, I may die with these loans. Not worth the stress. And now I’m locked in like an indentured servant walking on the eggshells for the rest of my life. Because please don’t forget, people absolutely LOVE suing more than they love bitching.

    • This month alone I had over $14,000 of production go out the window. Spent money on employees to confirm the appointments with the patients within 24-48 hours of the scheduled time. Each appointment was 2-3 hours long…..you guessed it, the day of the appointment they just simply didn’t show. People have ZERO respect for our time. Find a skill , profession, talent where people will respect your time In dentistry, we can’t overbook patients because we have to be on-hands the whole time to do the job. Unlike physicians that can tie up your time for hours while you wait on them to write a prescription, while their techs are doing all the real work in the background. We dentists have to have a dedicated amount of time to do our job, no one else in the office can do it.

  5. Hi I am a freshmen in college. I have currently in a direct admission program for dental school. I will be automatically entering dental school in 3 years as long as I maintain the GPA and DAT scores required by our program. I wanted to know more about the dental opportunities outside a private clinic. I do know that some hospitals have dentists specialized in certain programs, but i would like to know more about it.

    Thank You

    • Hey Matt,

      Great question! There are some dental options outside of private practice. There is community dentistry where you might work for lower economic populations or spend your time setting up social care type programs. There is military dentistry. There is dental research done for a university, or a big cooperation. There is also the option of working for a dentist or dental cooperation, where you don’t actually own the private practice but just do the work. There is also the education pathway where you teach dentistry at a dental school, hygiene school or assisting school.

  6. Do NOT go into the field of dentistry. You’ll make more money as a manager at McDonalds. I hate the profession after 25 years, it has caused me extreme emotional distress, and once you realize you hate it, you’re stuck. I would never take this path again if given the chance.

    • Hi Dave,

      Thanks for the comment. If you’re willing I would love to know more about why you regret becoming a dentist. And I think my readers would appreciate your feedback as well. Its good to know the pros and cons from the start.

      • Hi Ben,
        Here are just a few of the things that make me sick of my career, in the order of why I hate dentistry (being a dentist).
        1. I despise being hated by everyone, despite the fact I do my utmost best to make sure they are taken care of. I’ve gone to great expense to help people with THEIR teeth problems to just be told “I hate the dentist”. You think this is not directed at you in particular but it is. The patients say “don’t take this personal , but I hate the dentist”…..guess what? It becomes personal eventually. Can’t go anywhere and tell someone I’m a dentist without hearing the “I hate dentist” comments.

        2. It is way to difficult to get paid. No one wants to pay the dentist. They think it should be totally free, especially if they have insurance. They think you are a worthless servant of the government and should learn to live with whatever the insurance pays. This is only about 50% of what expenses are incurred by the procedures. Why do people think my skill is worthless??”??

        3. You never can take a vacation, at least a vacation that is paid for. It costs $5000 a week just to shut down despite the fact the vacation trip might only cost $1500. The average person can afford the $1500, but the dentist has to pay his employees, rent, loans, power, phone, etc. while not making any money. If you do get a “vacation”, you’re constantly worried about the mounting problems you will face when you return. Again, people hate you as a dentist but never think you should enjoy your time off
        Funny thing is, people think dentists are rich but constantly gripe about paying them. It all boils down to dentistry is not considered a valuable service in this country.

        4. TOO MANY DENTISTS everywhere!!!!!!! Everywhere I go, I can’t go 2 miles without seeing a damn dentist office. The competition is too great and if you are not spending $50K a year in website improvements, advertisements, internal marketing…..you are going to be left out.

        5. The intense demands from patients is overwhelming. You won’t believe how picky people are about their teeth. They gripe about the most insignificant things right after they tell you how much they hate you. Let me emphasize over and over how old it gets to be told you are hated. Most people take this lightly, but the dentist gets VERY SICK OF THIS PUBLICY ACCEPTED INSULT. There needs to be a hate-crime law against this action. Dentists commit suicide over this issue and there should be laws against telling a dentist you hate him/her.
        6. The income given the amount of stress and time at work is very low.
        7. You will be taxed to death.
        8. Your marriage will always be stressed and strained….good luck staying married.
        9. You will constantly be at war with an employee. The work ethic today is awful.
        10. You will have to work just as hard at age 70 as you do at 30, and at 70 , it is 100% more difficult.
        IOW, the money won’t just come in because of your age and experience.

        I wanted to be a dentist because I’m good with my hands and enjoy tackling tough jobs, but dentistry is ridiculous. Steer away from it!!! I was warned as a young man but ignored the warnings. I thought I would have it made as a dentist. Instead, it has been an awful career with no relief in sight.

        Just being honest . I warned you.

        • Ditto to all, don’t forget the constant neck and back pain, and huge insurance outlays: disability, life, health, overhead, malpractice, workmans comp, flood, unemployment, etc; or my favorite tax: radiation tax

          • Oh yes, I agree. The list goes on and on and on as to why dentistry is an industry so lacking in benefits and rewards.

  7. in malawi dentistry is not a paying career, a lot of dental technicians are poor, poorer than primary school teachers, what a shame

  8. what is your opinion about orthodontics?
    this is my dream job my concern is time, debt and not getting accepted into the residency

    is is also physically demanding ?

    • I work frequently with an orthodontist. She seems more busy than I do. Orthodontists usually see more patients than most general dentists in a day. They usually have more assistants helping them to get everything done. I would say that their work is physically demanding.

  9. Hi, thank you for not sugar coating the dentistry profession. I’m in a slightly different situation. I’ve already earned a bachelor’s degree, have been working as a professional for 6 six years now, and am considering a career change. I’m only 16 credits short of the requirement to get into dental school (o-chem and physics) and have thought about going for it. With the idea of possibly specializing in orthodontics, is it worth it at my age to start now? I would be in my late 30’s by the time I was finished and practicing on my own. What do you think?

  10. Hi! Thank you so much for this website, it has given me a large amount of insight to the practice of dentistry. I am a high school student, and I am very interested in this field. I have had confidence issues revolving around my smile; I would love to help others become less insecure about theirs. Is there any way I can get my foot into the door of dentistry since I’m only a teenager? Any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

  11. Hi,
    I’m currently an undergraduate student taking my prerequisite courses to apply for Nursing school. Lately, I’ve been researching dentistry and I feel like it is something that I could definitely see myself doing. In school, I have made my mistakes as far as poor grades. I do plan on repeats some of those classes to strive for an A.

    When applying to dental school, will those repeated classes hinder my chances of admission even if I do score a high grade?

    Also, is there any options to avoiding tremendous amounts of debt in dental school?

    Thanks for this article,

  12. Hello! I’m a high school student and I am really interested in dentistry. But the worry is I already have frequent backaches and neck pain as a student now, and I’m currently seeing a chiropractor. So I am not sure if I can cope with these physical stresses if I become a dentist in the future. Also, it seems that a dentist faces a lot of health risks via needle-stick incidences. I’m quite afraid of these… How do you think the probability of getting such incidences is? And how do any dentist cope with such imminent dangers everyday of their work?

    • Hi,

      This is a good, legit concern. Back and neck pains are a big problem. I know of a few dentists that have retired early due to these types of problems. Often they will go into teaching. But, there are protective measures which can help. Regular exercise, physical therapy, learning proper posture, and getting an ergonomic setup are some ways to slow the problems.

      As far as needle sticks go, it is quite rare. But, it does happen. Every clinic has protective measures, and even if it happens, the risk of getting the disease is low. Seems like every profession has its risks, but these are some good risks to consider. But remember, everything isn’t bad there are some great reasons to become a dentist, check out my Why to choose dentistry page.

  13. Hello, my parents are dentists and they want to give me a dental education but I hate this profession! Could I start loving this job in the future?

    • Sounds risky… have you tried working with your parents. I would not suggest that you go into something that you hate. There are too many other great professions out there. But since you have parents that are dentists you are lucky and can go work / shadow them. Find out if you enjoy it.

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