You might be interested in a career as a Dentist if you're the sort of person who:
  • Enjoys interacting with a wide range of people
  • Possesses excellent interpersonal and communication skills
  • Appreciates working both independently and as a part of a wider team
  • Has an advanced level of aptitude for the medical sciences
  • Has good general dexterity and hand-eye coordination
  • Possesses a willingness to learn about sound business management and leadership skills, and
  • Enjoys thinking spatially and is highly detail-oriented

This highly-ethical, well-educated profession, which actively fosters a culture of ongoing learning and development specialising in the treatment of conditions affecting the mouth, teeth, jaws and gums.

You will be involved in diagnosing and treating a diverse range of issues affecting a person's oral health, which is a reflection of the growing understanding that the health of a person's mouth, teeth and gums has a significant influence on their overall wellbeing.

Additionally, there is an increasing focus on preventive therapies over treatment, and on educating people so they are able to take an active role in the maintenance of their own oral health.

All of which means that practising as a dentist is a role that now encompasses a diverse range of activities, one that is growing year by year as advances in technology and biomedical research widen the scope of a dentist's role.


A typical day

Reflective of the near-constant changes in the practise of dentistry, your day could include any one of the following activities, particularly if you are the owner or lead practitioner at a practice;
  • Using oral exams, a patient's medical history, X-rays and tests to diagnose dental disease
  • Explaining to patients why a particular course of action is necessary and the ways to prevent a recurrence of the condition being treated
  • Providing preventive care via teeth cleaning, application of fluoride and other pharmaceutical interventions
  • Restoring teeth using crowns, veneers, fillings and the like
  • Replacing lost teeth with crowns and dentures
  • Oral surgery e.g., the removal of wisdom teeth
  • Supervising treatments by allied dental staff such as hygienists and prosthetists
  • Writing of prescriptions to help in the control of pain and disease management
  • Oversight of the day to day management of your dental practice.

It's not an exhaustive list by any measure but it underscores how varied a typical day can be in the average practice.

The places you can work

The employment opportunities for a dentist are quite diverse.

While the majority of dentists work primarily in private practice, beginning as assistant dentists before either establishing their own practice or going into partnership with a colleague, there is a wide range of options available.

These include working in the public sector in places like hospitals, schools and health departments, in the Armed Forces, overseas with international aid agencies, and in teaching & research.

You also have the option of moving into a specialised area of dental expertise such as paedatric dentistry or orthodontics, which usually involves additional study and a demonstrated emphasis over a period of time in your chosen specialty.


Obtaining the necessary qualifications

Dentists are required to undertake the equivalent of five years of study to become qualified (the length of dentistry courses varies between the respective universities).

Further study is required to become registered in a particular specialty, the amount of which will vary depending on the area of expertise chosen.

Entry into these courses is extremely competitive and may involve an Undergraduate Medicine and Health Sciences Admission Test (UMAT) and an interview, among other things. Again, these requirements vary from university to university. For a full list of dental schools Australia-wide, please check the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

Your professional association is the Australian Dental Association.


Regulatory requirements

If you want to practice as a dentist, you will need to be registered with the Dental Board of Australia.

In line with all other registered dental practitioners, you will need to complete a minimum of 60 hours of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) activities over a three year period (if you register at any time through this period, you will have to complete a pro rata number of hours).

You will also be expected to comply with the codes and guidelines issued by the Dental Board of Australia. These stipulate, among other things, that you may only practise the profession for which you are educated and trained. Other professional requirements such as the need for indemnity insurance and holding of the appropriate radiation licenses for your state also must be observed.

For further information on job prospects, earning, vacancies and training, consult Job Outlook.