California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Dentists, General in San Diego County

May also be called: Doctors of Dental Medicine (DMD); Doctors of Dental Surgery (DDS); and Family Dentists

Specialties within this occupation include: Dental Public Health Specialists; Endodontists; Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologists; Oral and Maxillofacial Pathologists; Pediatric Dentists; and Periodontists

What Would I Do?

Most Dentists are general practitioners, handling a variety of dental needs. Dentists examine, diagnose, and treat problems affecting the teeth, gums, tongue, lips, and jaws. They remove tooth decay, fill cavities, place protective plastic sealants on children’s teeth, and perform root canals. They also perform extractions and dental surgery on gums and supporting bones to treat gum diseases. Dentists provide instruction on diet, brushing, flossing, the use of fluorides, and other aspects of oral health care. Dentists are important in the early detection of oral cancer and other conditions in the body that display symptoms in the mouth. They give advice and administer care to help prevent future problems.

In addition to working as general practitioners, Dentists may practice in any of the following specialty areas:

Dental Public Health Specialists promote good dental health and the prevention of dental diseases through organized efforts. They also develop policies and programs to improve the dental health of the community.

Endodontists perform root canal therapy and specialize in treating injuries and diseases of dental pulp, nerves, and tissues affecting teeth.

Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologists diagnose diseases in the head and neck through the use of imaging technologies.

Oral Pathologists diagnose oral diseases such as oral cancer or oral lesions.

Pediatric Dentists focus on dentistry for children from birth to adolescence and may also treat disabled patients.

Periodontists treat the gums and bone supporting the teeth.

Tools and Technology

Dentists use a variety of dental tools and technology in their work. They use tools such as mouth mirrors, dental probes, burrs, dental forceps, and excavators. They also use dental files, reamers or drills, and dental X-ray units. They use dental technology such as dental implants, intraoral cameras, dental lasers, and sedation dentistry. Dentists may also use computer-assisted design (CAD), computer-assisted manufacturing (CAM), accounting, medical, spreadsheet, and word processing software.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Use masks, gloves and safety glasses to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases.Customer and Personal Service
Examine teeth, gums, and related tissues, using dental instruments, x-rays, or other diagnostic equipment, to evaluate dental health, diagnose diseases or abnormalities, and plan appropriate treatments.Medicine and Dentistry
Diagnose and treat diseases, injuries, or malformations of teeth, gums, or related oral structures and provide preventive or corrective services.Problem Sensitivity
Formulate plan of treatment for patient's teeth and mouth tissue.Complex Problem Solving
Advise or instruct patients regarding preventive dental care, the causes and treatment of dental problems, or oral health care services.Speaking
Administer anesthetics to limit the amount of pain experienced by patients during procedures.Control Precision
Use air turbine and hand instruments, dental appliances and surgical implements.Finger Dexterity
Treat exposure of pulp by pulp capping, removal of pulp from pulp chamber, or root canal, using dental instruments.Near Vision
Design, make, or fit prosthodontic appliances, such as space maintainers, bridges, or dentures, or write fabrication instructions or prescriptions for denturists or dental technicians.Judgment and Decision Making
Write prescriptions for antibiotics or other medications.Critical Thinking
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Dentists work in clean, sterile environments that are well-lit. Most Dentists run their own businesses and manage a small staff of dental hygienists, dental assistants, and receptionists. Some work for other Dentists, while an increasing number have formed partnerships or groups. The number of hours worked varies greatly among Dentists. Most established Dentists work less than 40 hours a week, whereas those who are trying to establish a new practice may work more. Most Dentists work four or five days a week and some work evenings and weekends to meet their patients’ needs. Some Dentists continue in part-time practice well beyond the usual retirement age.

Using proper ergonomics can help minimize lower back pain from sitting while working with patients. Following safety practices and using safety equipment such as masks, gloves, and safety glasses protects Dentists and their patients by reducing hazards, such as exposure to infectious diseases. Observing standard hygiene and safety procedures also helps reduce risk.

Self-employed Dentists are not unionized; however, salaried Dentists who work for specific governmental entities may join the Union of American Physicians and Dentists.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Dentist may appeal to those who enjoy activities that involve working with ideas and that require an extensive amount of thinking. This occupation involves searching for facts and figuring out problems. Results-oriented individuals who value working on their own and making decisions should enjoy this type of job.

Good communication and customer service skills are important. In addition, self-employed Dentists should have good management and business skills.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Earnings vary according to number of years in practice, location, number of hours worked, and specialty. Self-employed Dentists tend to earn more than salaried Dentists.


The median wage in 2016 for Dentists, General in California is $155,907 annually, or $74.95 hourly. The median wage for Dentists, General in San Diego County is $152,783 annually, or $73.46 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
San Diego County$77,599$152,783>$145,600
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


Salaried Dentists often receive employer-paid benefits, the most common being health, life, and malpractice insurance, as well as retirement benefits. Salaried Dentists may also receive paid continuing education. However, like other business owners, self-employed Dentists must provide for their own insurance and retirement plans.

What is the Job Outlook?

Employment for Dentists should remain steady. The growing older population should drive demand for the more expensive services and dental products available. More people are keeping their teeth as they age. Additionally, there is a growing interest in cosmetic dentistry. Growth of dental benefits in managed care also drives demand for routine and optional procedures. A large group of Dentists have reached retirement age and will need to be replaced in the near future.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Dentists, General is expected to grow at an average rate compared with the total for all occupations. Jobs for Dentists, General are expected to increase by 15.1 percent, or 2,500 jobs between 2014 and 2024.

In San Diego County, the number of Dentists, General is expected to grow slower than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Dentists, General are expected to increase by 11.1 percent, or 150 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Dentists, General
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Additional Openings
Due to Net
San Diego County
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 250 new job openings per year is expected for Dentists, General, plus an additional 340 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 590 job openings.

In San Diego County, an average of 14 new job openings per year is expected for Dentists, General, plus an additional 33 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 47 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Dentists, General
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
San Diego County
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

Graduation from an accredited four-year dentistry program is required to become a Dentist. Candidates must complete a minimum of two to three years of college to be admitted into a dentistry program; however, most applicants have a bachelor's degree. Required college courses include organic and inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, biology, microbiology, physics, and English. Applicants must perform well on the Dental Acceptance Test (DAT) to be admitted into dental school, which can be quite competitive. Schools require an application and fee along with transcripts and letters of recommendation. Going into any of the dental specialties may take anywhere from two to seven additional years in a postdoctoral residency program.


Some employers prefer to hire Dentists with one to three years of experience. Larger group practices or dental corporations may not require experience and may welcome new graduates. Employers with a large volume of patients who are children prefer Dentists with experience in pediatric dentistry. Others may want Dentists with experience in supervising dental staff.

Early Career Planning

High school courses important to becoming a Dentist include biology, chemistry, health, and algebra. Other helpful courses include physics, psychology, and a foreign language. Business courses may be helpful for those planning to run their own practice. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends taking advanced placement (AP) level courses. Volunteering to work in a dental office or clinic will provide valuable exposure to the field. A few Regional Occupational Programs (ROP) offer introductory courses for dental careers. To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.

Continuing Education

California license renewals require 50 hours of continuing education after the first renewal. A list of registered continuing education providers is available on the Dental Board of California website at under the Licensees tab.

Licensing and Certification

Dentists practicing in California must be licensed by the Dental Board of California. To be eligible for a license, applicants must graduate from a dental school approved by the Board. They must also pass a national exam, a law and ethics exam, and the Western Regional Examining Board (WREB) exam. Fingerprint clearance is also required. The license must be renewed every two years.

Applicants with a current license in another state are eligible to apply for Licensure by Credential (LBC).

Further information on licensure in California can be found by visiting the Dental Board of California at Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.

The Dental Board of California offers various renewable permits to licensed Dentists and specialists who meet the criteria.

For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Dentists, General are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Offices of Dentists 66.8%
Offices of Physicians 2.7%
Outpatient Care Centers 2.6%
State Government 1.6%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Job seekers should apply directly to dental clinics, hospitals with dental services, and public agencies, such as the California Department of Corrections. Professional journals and networking with members of dental associations may lead to jobs. Additionally, the military also provides an opportunity to practice dentistry. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Dentists, General.

  • Dental
  • Teeth

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Dentists can choose a variety of career paths that include private practice, either as a sole owner or as a partner; teaching at a dental institution; working in a hospital; or working for the military services. Some Dentists take advanced training in other dental specialties, such as dental public health, endodontics, and pediatric dentistry. Those employed by government agencies or large organizations may advance to higher levels of responsibility and pay. They may become a manager of one office or an operations director over several offices.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Dentists, General with links to more information.

Oral and Maxillofacial SurgeonsProfile
Physician AssistantsGuide

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification29-1021
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Dentists, General29-1021.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)IRS