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Concerns About Being A Dentist

pinkearmufspinkearmufs Registered User Posts: 914 Member
edited December 2011 in Parents Forum
Hi Parents,
I'm contemplating either optometry or dentistry, but am worried that there's sort of a dwindling demand for optometrists in light of LASIK, auto-refraction, etc. I'm leaning toward dentistry because of its hands-on nature, but as I'm doing research on the field, some things I've found are pretty troubling, so I was wondering if a dentist parent here could shed some light on them:

1. Dentists and Suicide: While statistics don't exactly prove that dentists have higher suicide rates in comparison with white collar jobs, many sources seem to say that the work is monotonous and the life quite stagnant, isolated, and lonely, and thus resultant in psychological problems in many a dentist. They claimed that it was emotionally draining having to work in a small dark space (the patient's mouth) the entire day, and physically draining having to sit for long spans of time with the back bent uncomfortably.

2. Risk of Exposure: Obviously dentists must be meticulous in creating a sterile environment for patients, but many sources say that there is high risk of infection by bloodborne pathogens. They also say that the dentist must guard his ears to avoid the intense grinding noise of the drill, and that exposure to nitrous oxide over time contributes to psychologica/behavioral problems, which pretty much tie back in to no.1 on this list.

3. Dentist Phobia: Finally, these sources claim that there exists almost a universal hate for dentists. There are numerous phobias surrounding dentists in all sectors of the population. Dentists are many a time perceived as sadists, unlike their kind and friendly, patient-oriented physician counterparts. Is it discouraging for a dentist that many a person loathes going to visit him?

I myself feel more helped upon leaving the dentist's office than the physician's, possibly because the results are more concrete. A dentist's work is, to me, very valuable and necessary. I have had, moreover, only positive encounters with dentists over the years. I'd like to know of your actual experiences as a dentist regarding these claims, because I certainly don't want to be scared off for nothing. I realize that there are real and perceived negative aspects attached to all professions. Thankyou ! :D
Post edited by pinkearmufs on

Replies to: Concerns About Being A Dentist

  • atomomatomom Registered User Posts: 4,372 Senior Member
    Not a dentist, but have had a LOT of major dental work (more $ in my mouth than my cars. . .probably a world record for time spent in dentists' offices).

    I've heard it is true that being a dentist can be somewhat depressing because most people fear dental work/pain and dread seeing the dentist.

    OTOH, dentists are greatly admired and appreciated--as you said because of the concrete results they provide. I've read that in spite of the expense, people feel like they get their $ worth at the dentist because the dentist really DOES something (as opposed to an MD, who can give you a prescription that doesn't work and still charge $100. . .) Personally, I am in awe of my dentist because of the precision and efficiency of her work. She is truly an artist with a steady hand. I appreciate her talent and skill so much--I don't see how she does it.

    The "sadistic dentist" image is from the old days. Dentistry is much closer to "painless" than ever. IMO no one hates dentists, personally. (They just hate pain, and hate themselves for procrastinating and letting that simple cavity turn into a root canal!) Patients realize that the pain is not the dentist's fault and love the work the dentist can do. Nitrous oxide isn't used much anymore. I don't see how they could be working in a dark place with the bright lights they use (my dentist provides sunglasses). Both the dentist's and patient's chairs are adjustable to help the dentist work in a more comfortable position. Exposure/noise seem like the biggest negatives. Those who want to do less invasive work with happier/less fearful patients tend to go into orthodontics

    I've seen many dentists over the years because of frequent moves, but it seems that each one had a friendly, cheerful, outgoing personality. Dentists are not just working with patients--there are many assistants and other dentists in the office--it seems like a very sociable atmosphere and not a lonely job at all. I've also noticed that most offices are concerned not only about patient's comfort/pain relief but also making the office appealing through decor, music, etc.

    Optometry is a cleaner, quieter job. But if you like to do craftsmanlike/precision/hands-on work and love people, there is a great demand for good dentists. (It seems that dentists make more, on average, than optometrists, too).
  • JustaMomJustaMom Registered User Posts: 2,395 Senior Member
    I have always feared the dentist. I mean ALWAYS. To this day I break into a sweat as I walk in the building. Just for a cleaning I bring my iPod and noise cancelling headphones. But my dentist is a gem. She sees me coming and lightly touches my shoulder, she speaks softly and doesn't "try" to make things better or make small talk, her staff offers me a blanket to cover with (yep, a blankie!). She does her job and when she's done I always hug her! It's been years since I've had any major work done, because she keeps my teeth in excellent shape. She's like a great car mechanic!

    I wear glasses too, and am not a candidate for laser surgery. I adore my optomologist. He pays attention and offers suggestions (at under 50, I wear tri-focals). He too is my hero. I will always need an optometrist.

    In my opinion these are true craftsmen/women. I admire them. A lot.
  • ucsd_ucla_daducsd_ucla_dad Registered User Posts: 8,573 Senior Member
    (I'm not a dentist or eye doctor) -

    The dentist becomes your absolute best friend when you have a toothache, broken tooth, etc. They're someone you're willing to go see at 3 in the morning or on a weekend or through a storm if you could.

    The dentist becomes your trusted colleague as they help to keep you from getting toothaches, keep your teeth healthy, etc.

    The dentist is a professional who can keep learning new techniques and expand their knowledge and experience over time.

    The dentist is often a business owner who can reap all of the rewards (and maybe some headaches) of owning a small business. Their business environment and success is often what they are able to make of it. In addition to spending time 'in people's mouths', they also have a business to run with the assocated paperwork, employees (assistants, hygienists, office workers), and other related work.

    New technologies such as digital X-Rays help make the dentist's environment safer.

    I also wear glasses and always will. Many people that have had Lasik and other procedures also wear glasses for certain conditions or will end up wearing glasses again as their eyes change as they get older. If you're considering someting other than optometry, ophthalmologists will also always be needed because there are many problems that can affect the eyes.
  • NYMomof2NYMomof2 Registered User Posts: 5,952 Senior Member
    I've been "exposed" to at least a dozen dentists because of moves, the fact that my husband uses one near his office and I have one near our house, the kids have a pediatric dentist, one son has an orthodontist, I've used an endodontist. All of them seemed genuinely happy, satisfied, and interested in their work. This is also true of hygienists, in my experience. I think it's a great field.

    I also think the world of my optometrist. I have always been nearsighted, and I've worn contacts since I was 17. These days I have trifocal contacts, and I see incredibly well. I've had people in their 30's exclaim in amazement at the small print I can read, that they can't read.

    You're considering two very important professions. If I were you, I'd find a message board devoted to each of them - they must exist - and ask your questions there.
  • doubleplaydoubleplay Registered User Posts: 3,550 Senior Member
    I am a CLOSE relative of a dentist-
    Although he has not committed suicide (yet), he was very unhappy with his profession (now retired). The last 10 years or so were excruciating. My own dentist (not my relative) DID commit suicide. I think of dentistry as the opposite of obstetrics (although I know you spoke about optometry, not obstetrics). An obstetrician sees mostly happy, excited, expectant patients. A dentist sees patients full of dread. Although both types of patients just want to GET IT DONE!
  • jenskate1jenskate1 Registered User Posts: 1,391 Senior Member
    I'm sure you realize that in every profession there are people who love what they do, and people who hate it. What you need to figure out (and not necessarily immediately) is what is right for YOU.

    IMO, the best way to start getting an handle on this is to shadow dentists and optometrists. Once you see what they do, and talk to them about it, your feelings may start to become clearer.

    Just an aside - optometrists, in my experience, are not at all becoming obsolete. As people live longer, and the population ages, more and more people need glasses/contacts. The vast majority of people in the US have nowhere near enough disposable income to get LASIK, and even those who have the surgery often need glasses.
  • newmassdadnewmassdad Registered User Posts: 3,848 Senior Member
    Dentistry has not been a growth profession the past few years, either, which is why you see so many "new" services being pushed: tooth whitening, adult orthodontia and even more questionable stuff like TMB adjustment.

    Northwestern University shut its dental school 5 years ago.

    Dental insurance availability is shrinking.

    You might want to check into the employment prospects, too.
  • hsmomstefhsmomstef Registered User Posts: 3,579 Senior Member
    i would suggest looking at orthodontics -- in general, you are helping out people over a long period of time. the orthodontists that my kids have seen are happy and great to be around. they share alot of the duties (putting on bands, etc) with the assistants. The offices are always neat, and I think there is both more money in orthodontics and more control over your life and time.
  • chocoholicchocoholic Registered User Posts: 2,995 Senior Member
    I agree that dentistry is experiencing a slowdown in growth, and will keep doing so, as people practice better dental hygiene, and more preventive care. There will be less need for fillings, crowns, bridges, root canals etc. Orthodontists will probably still prosper, as that is cosmetic, most people are prepared to pay the large sums, and there is not much one can do to avoid it.
  • ellemenopeellemenope Registered User Posts: 11,380 Senior Member
    Tri focal contacts?? I need them! I'm at the point where I only wear my contacts when I am playing tennis--because I can't read small print without my glasses on.

    Dentists, doctors and lawyers--no matter how much money you can make at being one, you should NOT become one unless you REALLY want to be one. Otherwise, your life can be miserable!

    My sister had a boyfriend once who was a dentist. He worked 3 days a week and drove a Porsche. My sister decided she wanted to be a dentist and applied (and was accepted) to dental school. She decided not to go--she decided that she really didn't want to spend her days looking into people's mouths--what she really wanted was the Porsche and the 3 day a week job.

    Have you thought of pharmacy?
  • OH_DADOH_DAD Registered User Posts: 38 Junior Member
    One thing I find amazing about Orthodontics is that it's a service that has suffered absolutely NO pricing erosion whatsoever. When I got braces in 1970 it was about $4000, and when I bought my daughter braces a couple years ago it was about $4400. Although the inflation argument says it should be a tad higher than $4400, at least it's held up well, which is some testimony to the unity in the OD profession. Where else can you charge $4400 for a couple hundred dollars in hardware, plus 3 dozen office visits ($120 per visit, many of them less than 10 minutes). In 1970 a color television was $1000; now it's $150. Incredible!
  • bookwormbookworm Registered User Posts: 7,839 Senior Member
    The suicidal rate for dentists is no applicable, as they now work in offices with many assistants, and often, with practioners with various specialties. Usually, it was the solitary nature of their work, and the fact of bringing pain, that led to that antiquated conclusion. I don't think there will be diminished demand. People opt for expensive implants rather than dentures. People seek a lot of cosmetic work. Wisdom teeth still need to be removed.
    Talk to optometrists and dentists. Try to find a way to work in offices. I don't think you'll be sorry in either field.
  • pdxguypdxguy Registered User Posts: 1 New Member
    As a second year dental student I can assure you that being a dentist won’t lead you into a life of suicide and public distain. Sure it’s stressful and demanding at times, but not more than any other area of medicine. This is not to imply that it is for everyone! If you desire more knowledge of what exactly it is that a dentist does, and whether or not you can see yourself doing it for the remainder of your working life, just ask one! As an undergrad, before I entered dental school, I called up a few dentists and asked if I could observe or assist them for an afternoon. The experiences were simply invaluable, solidifying my decision to pursue this path. Dentists love to teach; its part and parcel of their title “Dr.” so don’t be afraid to ask a few.

    Dentistry is a very dynamic field. Continual advances in material science, guided tissue regeneration, pathology screening, lasers, and implant technology necessitates continued learning on the part of the practitioner. This means a dentist’s educational experience is never done. Make no doubt about it, the hours of commitment to academic life will be demanding and there is a substantial learning curve involved in many of the procedures you’ll perform. There are indeed occupational hazards in the dental office. However recent changes in ergonomics protocol including the widespread use of surgical optics, universal precautions for infection control, digital radiography, quieter air-driven high speed hand pieces and nitrous savaging units have made the dentists life safer.

    Dentists enjoy a high degree of latitude once they leave school. Private, group, or managed practice; the hours you work; fees you decide to charge; the case load you undertake and the procedures you decide to employ are all things you have control over. On average, dentist income is in the top 5% of US families. In 1984 the mean income for a dentist in private practice was $67,000 it is now around $175,000. Most dentists choose to work 4 days a week and the profession enjoys an unemployment rate significantly lower than nearly all other careers. I’ve yet to meet the dentist in peril—the continually stressed-out, depressed, half suicidal, maniac that seems to somehow drift into public imagination.

    And, in regards to the aforementioned suggestion that restorative dentistry is declining, I would submit that it is, now reaching its very apogee; mainly due to the American diet and a expanding geriatric population. In short, it seems highly unlikely there will be any downturn in this market anytime soon.

    Best of Luck!
  • audiophileaudiophile Registered User Posts: 2,579 Senior Member
    OK, I'm a general dentist. Been in practice 25 years and I absolutely love it. However, I do know some who are miserable and even worked for a guy early in my career who eventually committed suicide (I don't believe his issues were caused by the profession, but who knows?). Here's a good review of the suicide question: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/010420.html. As far as exposure issues, dentistry is surgery and you need to protect both the patient and yourself. Modern Nitrous Oxide systems have scavenger systems, so minimal risk of scatter these days.

    Dental phobia is real and most patients will not want to be in your office. However, since dentistry can now be performed comfortably, it is incredibly empowering to the patient and dentist to overcome these fears. Once you gain a formerly phobic patient's confidence, you are their hero for life.

    The great thing about dentistry is that you can be the master of your own environment. Most dentists are still in solo practice and set their own hours, vacation schedule, etc. As a general dentist, you can pick and choose the procedures you want to do and refer the rest (after you've paid your dues, of course). At this point in my career, I only schedule patients 29 hours/week, and work chairside about 175 days/year. I only employ team members I enjoy being around and I appreciate the patients who choose to see me. Insurance is not a major factor for me, I have geared my practice for mostly elective procedures and enjoy a nice income. I truly cannot imagine doing anything else (except maybe being a rock star, but that's not happening!).

    I am happy to share my enthusiasm about the profession with those considering the field (unfortunately, neither of my kids seem to be so inclined), so feel free to ask questions or PM.
  • isaccisacc Registered User Posts: 276 Junior Member

    i am an optometrist for 24 years...my uncle is a dentist and loves it and is still practicing and he is 71!!
    when i was a teen my family assumedi would be a dentist and join my uncle in practice...however i was never a hands on, knot-tying type of guy...my eyes required glasses at 15 and by 16 was wearing contacts and it was such a miracle to me i got interested in the field...and though there is some dexterity needed in optometry its not near the precision needed in dentistry....
    if you love a little physics, biology and math optometry is a great field..
    dont worry about advances such as lasik ...when i started the big break through was implants for cataract procedures..eye docs worried about loss of income from post cataract glasses....that advance only made my career easier..
    i had a high school student shadow me one day and her summary for the day is ..optometrists have to talk alot!!
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