Average Dentist Starting Salary in the US by Specialty

Average Dentist Starting Salary in the US by Specialty
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Dentistry may not be among the quick degrees that pay well, but it shows optimistic job outlooks, not to mention a relatively higher starting salary. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021) projects an 8% increase in employment for dentists from 2020 to 2030. This means employment will rise by approximately 11,110 from the recorded 139,200 estimated total in 2020. Add to that an average dentist starting salary of around $121,000 annually, according to PayScale.  

Here are the average salaries they could expect and the locations where they may have the best prospects as they start their career in dentistry. 

Average Dentist Starting Salary Table of Contents

  1. Average Dentist Starting Salary
  2. Highest and Lowest Dentist Salaries
  3. Highest and Lowest Average Dentist Salary by State
  4. States with the Highest and Lowest Dentist Employment
  5. Cost of Dental School

Average Dentist Starting Salary

According to PayScale, entry-level dentists, or those with less than a year of experience, can expect a salary of about $120,608 on average, including tips, bonuses, and overtime pay. That is computed based on 155 salaries. Meanwhile, for general dentists, the entry-level wage is approximately $122,666 based on 36 salaries. 

For dentists with experience, ranging from one to four years, the average compensation based on 538 salaries could reach about $129,921. That is approximately $800 more than general dentists with the same experience based on 136 salaries. 

The more tenured dentists with a decade or two of experience could earn an average remuneration of $152,288 based on 224 salaries, while general dentists could get $143,184 on average based on 56 salaries. 

Dentists with over two decades of experience could earn an average of $157,799, while general dentists’ compensation could amount to an average of $168,663, much closer to the BLS’ recorded median pay of $164,010 per year for dentists in 2020.  

average salary of entry-level dentists

Highest and Lowest Dentist Salaries

According to the BLS (2021), $164,010 is the median annual wage for dentists in May 2020. The lowest 10% received less than $79,060 compensation, while the highest 10% gathered more than $208,000.

Some dentists operate their businesses. They often work alone or with a small staff. Other dentists have partners in their practice, while others work as associate dentists in already established dental practices. These different work setups could influence the income of dentists, not to mention their specialization and the location of their practice.

However, note that dentists’ salaries would vary according to their specialization and location.

Average Dentist Salary by Specialty

General dentists’ median annual wages in May 2020 are lower than the overall average at $158,000. Meanwhile, prosthodontists, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, and orthodontists earn a median of $208,000. All other specialists receive $183,300. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021)

Dentists in the government sector receive a median annual wage of $178,680, while those in offices of dentists, outpatient care centers, and offices of physicians earn at least $10,000 less. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021)

Dental Practice Owner Salary

Dentists may go into business on their own or with business partners. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), half the private practice dentists work solo. By “solo,” ADA means working as the only dentist in a dental office. Such solo dentists made up 50% of dentists in 2019. 

However, like in any business, dentists planning to venture into setting up their clinic must note that according to Dental Clinic Manual, the cost of building a new dental clinic or renovating an existing space to suit a dental clinic may range from $100 to $200 (or more) per square foot. That does not include equipment and does not take into consideration location premium yet. 

Meanwhile, a 2020 ADA report shows the average gross billings per private dental practice in 2019 could reach about $742,490 per general practice dentist or owner. As for specialists, it could be an approximate average of $1,059,890 gross billings. The median net income for dentists or owners may reach some $190,000 and about $285,000 for specialists.

A successfully operated dental clinic could generate an income higher than the average wage of dentists. Nevertheless, it is always best to consider all costs and risks before deciding to proceed with such a venture.  

Source: American Dental Association (2019)

Salaries of Other Related Professions

Dentists also require the assistance of other professionals to perform their duties. Here are occupations related to dentistry according to the BLS (2021) and their median salaries.

  • Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians are responsible for constructing, fitting, and repairing medical appliances and devices. Their median pay is $38,620.
  • Dental assistants care for patients, taking their x rays, keeping records, and scheduling appointments. Their median pay is $41,180.
  • Dental hygienists are those who examine patients for signs of oral diseases and provide preventive care. Their median pay is $77,090.

Highest and Lowest Average Dentist Salary by State

Salaries of dentists vary according to location. There are states where salaries are much higher. Based on BLS data, here are the states with the highest and lowest average dentist salaries grouped according to specialization. 

General Dentist

As defined by BLS, general dentists are those who examine and diagnose the dental conditions of patients. They treat diseases, injuries, and malformations of the teeth and gums. They may also treat diseases of the teeth’s nerve, pulp, and other dental tissues affecting oral hygiene and preservation of teeth. They may also fit dental appliances or give preventive care. This category does not include oral and maxillofacial surgeons, orthodontists, prosthodontists, and all other specialists. 

The national estimate on the annual mean wage for general dentists is $180,830 or $86.94 per hour. Rhode Island offers the highest annual mean wage at $258,920 or $124 per hour. Here is a shortlist of states with the highest wages for dentists. 

  • Rhode Island: $258,920/year or $124/hour
  • Vermont: $254,190/year or $122/hour
  • Alaska: $242,850/year or $117/hour
  • Maine: $236,060/year or $113/hour
  • New Hampshire: $222,430 or $107/hour

Meanwhile, BLS records West Virginia as having the lowest annual mean wage for dentists. It amounts to $127,950 per year or $62 per hour. Here is a list of the five states with relatively lower salaries for dentists. 

  • Utah: $147,730/year or $71/hour
  • Louisiana: $145,980/year or $70/hour
  • Wyoming: $133,750/year or $64/hour
  • Kentucky: $128,850/year or $62/hour
  • West Virginia: $127,950/year or $62/hour

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are dental specialists performing surgery and other related procedures on hard and soft tissues found in the oral and maxillofacial regions to treat diseases, injuries, or defects. Also, they may diagnose problems related to the oral and maxillofacial regions and perform surgeries for improved function or appearance.

The national estimate for oral and maxillofacial surgeons in terms of annual mean wages is $237,570 or $114.21 per hour. Minnesota offers the highest annual mean wage at $278,280 per year or $134 per hour. The five states with the highest salaries for oral and maxillofacial surgeons are as follows.

  • Minnesota: $278,280/year or $134/hour
  • Ohio: $270,090/year or $130/hour
  • South Dakota: $267,480 or $129/hour
  • Maryland: $260,690/year or $125/hour
  • Pennsylvania: $241,060/year or $116/hour

Meanwhile, South Carolina has the lowest annual mean wage for oral and maxillofacial surgeons at $80,920. The mean hourly wage is $39. Here are other states with relatively lower annual mean wages for this specialization. 

  • New York: $227,640/year or $109/hour
  • California: $204,920/year or $99/hour
  • Texas: $184,300/year or $89/hour 
  • South Carolina: $80,920/year or $39/hour 

Orthodontists

Orthodontists examine, diagnose, and treat dental malocclusions and oral cavity anomalies. They design and fabricate appliances that would help realign teeth and jaws, thus producing and maintaining normal function while also improving appearance.

The national annual mean wage estimate for orthodontists is $230,830 or $110.98 per hour. Oklahoma has the highest annual mean wage for orthodontists at $286,050. That is about a $138 hourly rate. Listed below are the states that have the highest mean wages for orthodontists. 

  • Oklahoma: $286,050/year or $138/hour
  • Virginia: $279,710/year or $134/hour
  • Washington: $277,050/year or $133/hour
  • North Carolina: $271,270/year or $130/hour
  • Minnesota: $268,480/year or $129/hour

As for the lowest annual mean wage for orthodontists, Illinois gives about $180,820 per year or $87 per hour. Here are the states with the lowest mean salaries for orthodontists. 

  • Utah: $210,190/year or $101/hour
  • Michigan: $208,540/year or $100/hour
  • New York: $199,930/year or $96/hour
  • California: $197,710/year or $95/hour
  • Illinois: $180,820/year or $87/hour

Prosthodontists

Prosthodontists diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate patients with clinical conditions associated with teeth, oral and maxillofacial tissues, or the jaw. They also design and fit prostheses to maintain oral function. They also improve health and appearance for patients in doing so.

The national estimate of annual mean wages for prosthodontists is $214,870 or $103.30 per hour. 

There is limited data available for this specialization as per the BLS (2020e). The two states in the record—Virginia and Wisconsin—offer $ 190,790 and $249,920 annual mean wages, respectively. The hourly rates are $91.73 and $120.15, respectively. 

expected increase in dentist employment from 2020 to 2030

All Other Specialists

All other specialists are those not listed in the sections above. 

Connecticut has the highest annual mean wage for dentists of all other specializations not mentioned previously. The salary reaches about $275,350 per year or $132 per hour. That is much higher than the national estimates of $194,930 mean wage per year and $93.72 per hour.

The five states with relatively higher annual mean wages are the following. 

  • Connecticut: $275,350/year or $132/hour
  • Indiana: $272,640/year or $131/hour
  • Missouri: $270,760/year or $130/hour
  • Louisiana: $254,090/year or $122/hour
  • Nebraska: $243,430/year or $117/hour

On the other hand, Mississippi has the lowest recorded annual mean wage for dentists. It amounts to $130,850 per annum or $63 per hour. Here are the other states with relatively lower salaries for dentists. 

  • Illinois: $169,500/year or $81/hour
  • Pennsylvania: $152,720/year or $73/hour
  • Nevada: $146,280/year or $70/hour
  • Maryland: $134,170/year or $65/hour
  • Mississippi: $130,850/year or $63/hour 

States with the Highest and Lowest Dentist Employment 

As of 2020, the recoded number of jobs is 139,200. However, as mentioned earlier, dentists’ job outlook is quite positive, with an expected 8% increase in employment from 2020 to 2030, according to BLS (2021). 

Specifically, the estimated employment as of 2020, excluding self-employed, is 95,920 for general dentists, 4,120 for oral and maxillofacial surgeons, 5,040 for orthodontists, 530 for prosthodontists 5,610 for all other specialists. (BLS, 2021) 

The estimated openings for dentists each year, on average, over the decade is 5,000. Such openings, according to BLS, could be the result of the need to replace workers who choose to change occupations or because of exit from the labor force, as in through retirement. 

Here are the employment estimates per specialization as of May 2020 as reported by BLS. 

General Dentists

California has the highest estimated employment for general dentists on record in 2020, with approximately 12,040. Other states with high employment for general dentists are as follows. 

  • California: 12,040 
  • Texas: 8,480 
  • Florida: 7,050 
  • New York: 6,270 
  • Illinois: 3,660

The lowest estimate is in North Dakota, with 180. The following are the states also with relatively lower employment for general dentists.

  • Rhode Island: 280 
  • Delaware: 280  
  • South Dakota: 270 
  • Alaska: 220 
  • North Dakota: 180

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons

Like general dentists, California also has the highest employment estimate for oral and maxillofacial surgeons at 560. Other states with relatively higher estimates are as follows: 

  • California: 560
  • Florida: 330
  • New York: 300
  • Pennsylvania: 250
  • Texas: 210

Meanwhile, Indiana has the lowest recorded employment estimate for oral and maxillofacial surgeons at 70. The other states are the following. 

  • South Carolina: 150
  • Tennessee: 130
  • Massachusetts: 110
  • Virginia: 100
  • Indiana: 70

Orthodontists

For orthodontists, Maryland has the highest record of estimated employment for 2020 at 560. The other states that follow also have higher employment. 

  • Maryland: 560
  • Illinois: 350
  • Texas: 300
  • New York: 280
  • Massachusetts: 270

The lowest recorded estimated employment for orthodontists is in Iowa at 50. Here are other states with relatively lower employment. 

  • Nebraska: 70
  • Michigan: 60
  • South Carolina: 60
  • Wisconsin: 60
  • Iowa: 50

All Other Specialists

Nevada has the highest employment for all other dental specialists, with a record of 710. Listed here are states with the highest employment.

  • Nevada: 710
  • Texas: 570 
  • California: 440 
  • New York: 260 
  • Florida: 230

Meanwhile, the state with the lowest employment of dentists with specializations other than those listed in the previous section is Mississippi with 40. Here are the rest of the states with relatively lower employment.

  • South Carolina: 50 
  • Oregon: 50 
  • West Virginia: 40 
  • Kentucky: 40 
  • Mississippi: 40

Another Prospect for Dentists

Samaranayake and Fakhruddin (2021) note that limiting physical contact with patients or presymptomatic people will be critical in a post-pandemic world. Remote dental treatment, guidance, and education via information technology instead of direct patient contact could be an important component of patient care management, particularly during sporadic resurgences in regional pockets or areas where the pandemic may linger for months.

In their study titled, “Pandemics Past, Present, and Future,” Samaranayake and Fakhruddin (2021) suggest that Teledentistry “could be an essential arm of the patient care management protocol, particularly during the sporadic resurgence of the infection in regional pockets or in areas where the pandemic may linger for months.” 

Teledentistry is “the remote facilitating of dental treatment, guidance, and education via the use of information technology instead of direct face-to-face contact with patients,” as defined by Samaranayake and Fakhruddin in their study published in The Journal of the American Dental Association

It includes teleconsultation, telediagnosis, teletriage, and telemonitoring. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, teledentistry could be used remotely to consult with patients with acute COVID-19 infections and those in quarantine. It could also be used to provide post-exposure advice and assessment. (Samaranayake & Fakhruddin, 2021)

Teledentistry could also be used to monitor preexisting oral diseases, such as cancer rehabilitation therapy and suspected oral lesions. It is critical because routine oral health care for patients may have been neglected during the pandemic due to lack of access to care facilities or travel restrictions. (Samaranayake & Fakhruddin, 2021)

Dentists and patients may still be reluctant to accept teledentistry as a care management tool because it is new. Nevertheless, the growing use of cloud-based data services, artificial intelligence, and big data resolution through bioinformatics will undoubtedly make it a robust diagnostic and patient care management tool in the not too distant future. (Samaranayake & Fakhruddin, 2021)

Cost of Dental School

Attending dental school can be quite expensive. In the ADA’s survey of dental education, the average dental school tuition and fees for first-year resident students in $55,521 and $71,916 for non-resident. Meanwhile, the average first-year resident tuition and fees for private schools are $76,447 and $41,033 for public schools. 

However, there are affordable institutions. According to the same survey, the most affordable dental school in 2020-21 for first-year students is the University of Illinois, Chicago, with a $17,818 cost for residents and $32,068 for non-resident. Following this is Texas A&M University at $18,288 for residents and $29,088 non-residents.  

On a bigger picture, the ADA reports that the average dental school costs for all four years in 2020-211 is $325,891 for non-residents and $259,990 for residents or $342,927 for private schools and $202,571 for public institutions. 

Source: Commission of Dental Accreditation

Requirements to be a Dentist 

Dentists need a DDS or DMD degree earned from attending a dental program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). Generally, applicants to the program must have at least a bachelor’s degree, preferably in science. They must have completed certain science courses, including but not limited to biology or chemistry. Dental school applicants should take and pass the Dental Admission Test (DAT).

Note that dentists must be licensed in the state where they choose to work. The licensure requirements would vary per state. Most states demand a DDS or DMD from an authorized dental school and pass the National Board Dental Examinations and a state or regional clinical test.

Before choosing an institution, it is best to check the accreditation to make sure the program is aligned to what is needed for taking and passing the written and clinical exams.

A dentist must also be licensed to practice in a particular dental specialty. After dental school, licensure requires a residency and, in some cases, a state exam.

What are the dental specialties?

Most dentists are general practitioners. They handle a variety of dental needs. However, some dentists practice in a specialty area. BLS (2021) describes the following as specialty areas related to dentistry. 

  • Dental anesthesiologists administer anesthetics to reduce or eliminate pain during a dental procedure. They monitor sedated patients, keeping them safe and helping them manage pain after their procedure.
  • Dental public health specialists work in or reach out to communities to promote good dental health, not to mention the prevention of dental diseases.
  • Endodontists specialize in performing root canal therapy, removing nerves and blood supply from infected or injured teeth.
  • Oral and maxillofacial radiologists diagnose diseases in the head and neck using imaging technologies.
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeons operate on the mouth, jaws, teeth, gums, neck, and head. They perform surgical repair of a cleft lip and palate or remove impacted teeth.
  • Oral pathologists diagnose conditions in the mouth, including bumps or ulcers. They also diagnose oral diseases like cancer.
  • Orthodontists specialize in straightening the teeth by applying pressure on them using braces or other appliances.
  • Pediatric dentists specialize in handling the dental needs of children and special-needs patients.
  • Periodontists are those who treat the gums and bones that support the teeth.

Take note that dentists may also do research or teach. 

Before practicing any dental specialty, dentists must undergo extra training. A two to four-year residency in a program accredited by CODA leads to a postdoctoral certificate or master’s degree. Oral and maxillofacial surgery schools typically last four to six years and include a joint M.D. degree.

General dentists do not require post-graduate training.

A postdoctoral program in general dentistry may be required for dentists who desire to teach or do research full-time.

Is dental school worth it?

Considering the cost of attending dental school, one might say that it is a very expensive degree to earn. However, like when judging the worth of other degrees, students must look into several factors like the average income once they start practicing. The projected rise in employment alongside projected increases in wages are also vital factors.

While college in the U.S. tends to be expensive, take note that not all institutions, even dental schools, will be expensive. There will be more affordable ones and those that offer financial aids. On the same note, choosing where to practice dentistry is also vital since dentists’ wages vary according to state.

Ultimately, understanding all vital factors, prospective dentists could determine how long their return on educational investment would take. Then, they can say whether attending dental school and becoming a dentist is worth it. 

 

References

  1. American Dental Association. (n.d.). The Dentist Workforce -Key Facts. In ADA.org. https://www.ada.org/-/media/project/ada-organization/ada/ada-org/files/resources/research/hpi/hpigraphic_0221_1.pdf
  2. Samaranayake, L., & Fakhruddin, K. S. (2021). Pandemics past, present, and future. The Journal of the American Dental Association, 152(12), 972–980. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adaj.2021.09.008
  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020a, September 9). Dentists, All Other Specialists. Bls.gov; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291029.htm#st
  4. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020b, September 9). Dentists, General. Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291021.htm#st
  5. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020c, September 9). Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291022.htm#st
  6. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020d, September 9). Orthodontists. Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291023.htm#st
  7. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020e, September 9). Prosthodontists. Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291024.htm#st
  8. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, September 8). Dentists: Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dentists.htm

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