Becoming a dentist: Is it worth it?

Many of the viewers here at DentalDAT are students who are thinking about becoming a dentist, just getting started on the path to becoming a dentist, applying to dental school,  or dental students. Throughout this entire process, where ever they might be, the question that is in the back of their minds remains “Is it worth it to become a dentist?”

Becoming a dentist is what I’ve wanted to do since I could remember. I never doubted my desire to become a dentist but throughout the process, I did ask myself if it is worth the time and effort. I never was able to come up with a good answer. Many dentists that I spoke with “liked” their job and didn’t regret their decision to become a dentist. I’ve occasionally come across a dentist who wished they would have chosen a different career but that was few and far between.

In all truthfulness, the answer to this question is going to come down to your definition of “worth”. A dentist graduating 20 years ago could come out of school with $60k of debt and get it paid down in a reasonable amount of time and begin saving. Nowadays, you are looking at between $200k to $550k on top of your college loans. At a 7.1% interest rate, this begins growing rapidly.  Payments ranging from about $1k to $3k+ a month can be daunting and overwhelming for some.

So what does “worth it” mean? To me “worth it” means being involved in a profession that has prestige and that allows for me to impact the lives of others. Every day I work with patients who gain functionality or increase esteem because of the dental work performed. Whether it is an esthetic case of anterior crowns, delivering a set of dentures or extracting a tooth that has been hurting. I am continually studying the art of dentistry so that the results my patients receive are high quality. Dentistry allows for me to be involved in a profession that encourages a lifetime of learning and continual practice to improve skills.

Despite the satisfaction resulting from patient care, “worth it” also means being able to provide a comfortable lifestyle for my family. Financial rewards (AKA the paycheck) and of course time are both very important. Having only been out of school for just under a year this aspect will be something that continues to change throughout my career. However, even at this very early stage, my family lives comfortably. I am able to spend time with my wife and kids. I am able to treat them to experiences that take many households years to obtain. In addition, I am able to give to those in need without feeling like I am strapped for cash. Despite the large monthly loan payments, I am happy with the financial rewards that my career offers.

Is it “worth it” to become a dentist? My short answer is, absolutely. Is it without sacrifice or compromise? No. If you want to get rich quick this is not the profession for you. It is going to take at least 8 busy years and a lot of debt to get to the point of earning a paycheck. However, if you want a solid and relatively stable career this just might all be “worth it”.
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