Skip to main content

How Much Do Dentists Make? 

It might not be a particularly glorious profession, but dentists more than make up for it with very good compensation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of a dentist as of May 2018 was $175,840. If you don't mind working on people's mouths, dentistry seems like an industry that will never really go away.

Factors That Determine Salary

Obviously there are a number of factors in determining salary potential, but the two biggest factors that I see are the location of your practice, and the manner of your practice. If you live in an affluent area, or simply high populous area, you're going to be in a much better situation. Also, if you are practicing in an area with few rival dentists, you have a potential for larger income simply from good old-fashioned supply and demand. Your income potential also increases if you own your own practice. But this takes time, and also requires you to play the part of a business owner.

By building up a business, with dentists working under you, your income potential expands much like the owner of any business. It also increases the chances of you having more free time, as those working under you create cash flow.

Another important factor would be the nature of your work. Do you simply specialize in regular teeth cleanings? Or do you perform cosmetic procedures, surgeries etc.? The training and services offered can alter and improve your income potential. As notes, dental professionals who perform surgery make significantly higher pay. If you look at it more in depth, more than simply dentists, the dental industry has many salary levels.

Again, these figures come from May of 2018. If for say, you are a full orthodontist, the median wages increase to $208,000 a year. The same goes for oral and maxillofacial surgeons. Prosthodontists make a median of $176,540, while general dentists salaries have a median of $151,850. It's pretty straight forward. The more you do and specialize in, the higher your pay should be.

Another big factor is the location of your job. If you work in a dentist's office, the industries median annual wages are $161,600. If you work in a physician's office, that median goes down to $146,110. Outpatient care centers have median salaries only slightly higher. Dental professionals working for the government (most likely military), have the lowest median in the industry at $129,590.

Geographic Breakdown

According to Bureau of Labor Stats data, the state with the highest average income for a dentist is Delaware ($264,440) followed by Alaska ($259,350), Rhode Island ($254,190), Minnesota ($227,280) and New Hampshire ($226,300). As I said, the compensation makes up for the nature of the work. Some of the worst paying states on average include Louisiana ($124,020), West Virginia ($139,170), Nebraska ($135,080), Wyoming ($125,120) and Utah ($138,170). Overall, the northern Midwest, large parts of the New England coastal states and the northeastern southeast do well when it comes to dentists' incomes. Weaker areas are in the southeast, the rust belt states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, and the Deep South along Mississippi and Louisiana. California is also surprisingly weaker on the list.

As a whole, the northwest looks like a fairly stable place in terms of salary. Most of the area seems to have average to above-average salaries.

Becoming a Dentist 

To be a dentist, you're going to go through a lot of school. First you'll need a bachelors degree, with a great many courses in the sciences. We're talking chemistry, biology, statistics, all those fun things. The performance at this level helps get students into dental school. Then you have to take an admissions exam, and hopefully be accepted to go to dental school full time for four years. If you make it through all that, you can get licensed, certified, and begin practicing. Dentists do have the options of residencies, but it doesn't seem to be a requirement.

Payment Growth Outlook 

According to the Bureau of labor statistics, the number of jobs in dentistry are expected to increase by a whopping 19%. That's much higher than the 7% average growth rate projected for all occupations combined. Like most medical professions, the thing about dentistry is, it will always be needed. As the population grows, and ages, the need for dental treatments will always be there, virtually ensuring a career field for those willing to put in the time to get there. Even if they find a way to regrow teeth, a dentist will assuredly be involved. The field even outpaces the rest of the healthcare services. Health diagnosing and treating practitioner jobs are expected to grow at a rate of 16% from 2016-2026, 3% slower than that of dentists. It's probably one of the most secure occupations in the country today.


Of course, all job markets are cyclical, and this projection could shift, given other economic factors. Alterations in our healthcare system, a popular topic these days, could increase and/or decrease job growth rates for medical fields like these. Medicare is definitely a big part of fields like dentistry. If Medicare were to increase or decrease, it would certainly have direct implications for dentists. Overall, though, I think the demand for dental care seems essential to an aging United States population. Large scale changes to our healthcare system also seem rather difficult to accomplish.


When becoming a dentist, you are essentially assured a much higher salary than most occupations. That said, it does pay to your favor to pay attention to geographic areas with higher median salaries on average. Again, the southeast seems to be one of the weakest places to work, whereas many New England states, along with parts of the Midwest, have excellent wages. Of course, this is all rather relative. Dental salaries are still high compared to most occupations, so you can really work wherever you'd like.

A good strategy might be to attempt to go for market share where there are few competing practices. On the other hand, you can avoid the headaches of being a business owner by working for a larger practice in an affluent area. It is very much a personal preference, and whatever approach is made seems to yield good results in terms of wages. Even the weak median wages of Louisiana still yield well over $100,000 a year. How many professions can claim that? If you can handle some of the sights you might see cleaning and repairing teeth, this is definitely a sound profession that has higher growth potential than most occupations today.