Dentaltown November 2017 - 18

professional courtesy
column

'So, You Want to Be a Dentist?'
I was recently visiting my son, now in his first year
of college, and had a familiar conversation with another
parent I'd just met, who told me his oldest son had recently
graduated and wants to go to dental school. After I told
him that I'm a dentist, his next question was the one
that many ask: "What do you think? Should he do it?"
I paused before answering. It's a more difficult decision
than it was 30 years ago when I graduated high school
with my sights set on a career as a dentist. When anyone
asks the question about entering the dental profession,
it's like newlyweds asking if they should have kids. The
short answer: It's difficult and expensive, but it could
be the best thing you ever do in life.
Make no mistake about it-when you choose to
become a dentist, you've made a commitment to a specific
profession. As you already know, you can't wake up one
day and decide you're sick of teeth and now you want
to work on feet. (Yes, there are a few people with dental
degrees who have shifted to something else, but they
are the exceptions, and the transformation to another
career is often not immediate.)
The most common objection to a career in dentistry
is the cost of education. Yes, it is extremely expensive, but
the prospect of a bright financial future allows dentistry
to maintain its position as a highly competitive degree.
The numbers, though, paint a scary picture.
I fi nanced my entire dental school education-
tuition, books, living, food, etc.-with student loans
and whatever money I could earn during the summer.
When I graduated from dental school, my total student
loan debt was $80,000. Factoring for inflation, that
$80,000 would be roughly $130,000 today.
In contrast, according to SUNY
at Buffalo's financial aid website, the
total cost to attend four years of dental
school (including living expenses) is
$289,926. That's a number that is very
much in line with most dental schools
today, and it is a clear example of the
accelerated cost of higher education.

This is by no means a total deal-breaker, but it is the
first bit of advice I offered to the curious parent I met:
Don't expect him to graduate from school and start
living "like a dentist." There will be lean years until
the debt is tamed.
When I read conversations on Dentaltown from
older dentists who've become frustrated with their
chosen profession, the talk often turns to one of two
major topics: regulation and ethics. The two are often
related; regulation is a reaction to unethical behavior.
Dentist uses dirty instruments, patients get sick, OSHA
regulation grows-you get the idea.
Oddly enough, some level of regulation plays well
for the large groups in dentistry because they have entire
departments that handle these rules to scale. Meanwhile,
solo or small-group practices struggle to commit
resources to keeping track of ever-changing rules. The
ethical shortfalls of today will contribute to our future
dissatisfaction. Whether because of student loans or
an oversize standard of living, dentists committing the
sins of overtreatment or providing low-quality care will
lead to further erosion of patient trust and additional
regulation.
The next bit of advice I offered was this: If you choose
dentistry as your profession and provide excellent care,
there will always be a demand for your services. A great
analogy that illustrates this point involves attorneys:
There was a time when all you needed was a law degree
for a bright, successful future. Now, there's not only an
abundance of attorneys, but you'll also search longer to
find one who's ethical and competent. Despite rumors
that a law degree is useless, the great attorneys are very
successful.
We all share the responsibility to encourage the
right people to pursue careers in dentistry. That means
we provide clear descriptions of the challenges that lie
ahead and support their decisions with our mentorship.
We still have a terrific profession, but the challenges are
growing. I still couldn't imagine doing anything else. I'm
on Twitter @ddsTom or email: tom@dentaltown.com. ■

by Thomas Giacobbi, DDS, FAGD, editorial director, Dentaltown magazine

18

NOVEMBER 2017 // dentaltown.com


http://www.dentaltown.com

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Dentaltown November 2017

Dentaltown November 2017 - Intro
Dentaltown November 2017 - Cover1
Dentaltown November 2017 - Cover2
Dentaltown November 2017 - 1
Dentaltown November 2017 - 2
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