This post is a deeply personal one about my profession, which I very much love, but which is often demonized in the press and in the public, and which is often perceived as nothing more than a bunch of greedy scumbags. It’s not often that we dentists get to present our side, and while I’ve debated long and hard about whether to post this, or if it should be here or on my office blog www.SmilesbyPayet.com, I’ve decided this is the place. Fair warning – abusive or denigrating comments will be deleted. My blog, my rules.
In a recent comment on my article A Toothache Can Kill You, the commentor made some kind of harsh accusations (near the bottom, you’ll have to scroll almost to the end):
…but without 400 bucks…they basically said die….the system sucks…u ppl don’t care….make ur thousands a month while we [starve] to try [and] live..teeth or no teeth…smdh
Ouch………“u ppl don’t care” and “make ur thousands a month while we starve…” Pretty harsh words, aren’t they? Sadly, a lot of people feel the same way; just read the comments on any news story about dentists these days, most of which are about dentists jailed for, or accused of, unnecessary treatment, defrauding Medicaid, or any number of other things. We dentists are accused of being greedy, uncaring, unethical, will-do-anything-for-money, torture-loving, scum-of-the-earth low-lifes. Even a Duke professor, in an NPR interview a couple years ago, made similar accusations. BUT ARE THESE ACCUSATIONS TRUE? Are we dentists really like that?
Most Dentist are Honest and Decent People
Seriously…..I’m not kidding. It’s not like there is some conspiracy among dentists to rip people off, do bad things to them, hurt them, trick them, or any of that stuff. Are there some dentists like that? Sure, of course there are! But they’re the minority, not even close to a majority. Unfortunately, the ones you hear about in the news are the bad apples that make the rest of us look bad.
And just to interject a little humor, as well as to demonstrate that we dentists have some frustrations with patients, too, I highly recommend this blog by Lolabees: 10 Reasons Your Dentist Probably Hates You, Too.
I’m PROUD to be a Dentist
And I’m serious about that, too! Not only that, I truly enjoy what I do, and yes, getting comments like the ones on that post actually hurt my feelings. That person doesn’t know me or the thousands of my colleagues who went into dentistry because we wanted to HELP people. Do I deny that I make a good living? Nope, not in the slightest, but quite frankly, I think I deserve it. Why? Because I’ve had to work my butt off to a level that most people can’t begin to comprehend.
You want to know why I love my job? Here you go:
- Every single day, I get to help people live better lives. Not necessarily in a big life-changing way every day, but we keep people healthy and we get them back to health if they need it.
- I get to watch people grow up. I’ve been a dentist for 15 years now, and it’s almost impossible to describe how cool it is to see the little kids that first came to me when they were in 1st grade, now in college. And the young adults who were single, but now are married and having their first, second, or 3rd child. Or the adults who had high-school kids, now telling me how those kids have graduated college, gotten married, and are having kids. Dentists get to KNOW people over DECADES of their lives, and it’s so much fun to watch. We grow up together.
- Sometimes I DO get to make a life-changing difference for my patients. It might be something drastic, like helping to save someone’s life by recognizing oral cancer at an early stage, or using our Periolase dental laser to help them save their teeth/smile and not need dentures, or 10 veneers for a Smile Makeover that transforms their smile from ugly to dazzling, giving them new confidence and improved self-esteem (seeing the tears of joy when they hold up the mirror is unbelievably awesome).
- Yeah, I get to play with really awesome technology, like digital photography, CAD/CAM, microscopes, and lasers. Compared to what was possible when I graduated UNC Chapel Hill School of Dentistry in 1998, we live in a Golden Age of dental technology that makes dental work easier, faster, more comfortable, less scary. And I get to use that stuff every day – it’s COOL!
- I’m my own boss! I control my own business, good and bad, and I answer to no one (except my wife, of course) :-).
Why is Dental Work So Expensive?
I discussed a few reasons for why dental work is expensive in my response to that comment, and then was accused of being harsh in response. And you know, maybe I was – but I was reacting from my gut and emotions, because honestly, those comments hurt my feelings. I took them personally, because I know they’re not true.
So why IS dentistry so expensive? Quite a few reasons, actually, most of which the public has no idea about, so here are a few statistics:
- Dental school today typically costs between $250-400,000. Can you imagine? Most people never even buy a home that costs $400,000, but that’s how much DEBT most new dentists have today, before they even start working. They have to finance that debt like a mortgage, over THIRTY YEARS! How would YOU like to be paying for your schooling 30 years after you finished?
- Building a dental office can cost $200-750,000. It can be done a bit cheaper, but not by much. And the cheaper you go to build it, more often you have more maintenance problems, etc. And BTW – this doesn’t even count if you actually buy or build the building.
- Dentists Actually Get Paid Last. Let’s say your dentist charges you $800 for a crown. I sure hope you don’t think the dentist actually gets all that money – not even close! What comes first?
- Employee payroll
- Supplies and materials needed to take care of you
- Lab bills for crowns, bridges, partials, etc.
- Taxes (unemployment, Social Security, etc etc etc)
- Equipment loans, etc.
- Last of all……the dentist. If we don’t make enough money to pay all the other stuff, just like any other business, we go out of business.
You know a comment that I always think is so funny? It’s this one:
“Hey Doc, can you give me a discount? I’m on a fixed income.”
HA! Do you have any idea how much I sometimes wish for a “fixed income?” Why? Because my income can be different every month, depending on how busy we are. Great month = great paycheck. Lousy month = lousy paycheck. And it can change from one month to the next.
Is Your Dentist Up-To-Date or Behind-the-Times?
Here again, most people have no idea how much it costs a dentist to stay current on both techniques and technology. Technology in dentistry has exploded in recent years, with awesome benefits to patients – more convenient, faster, more comfortable, fewer visits, etc. However, it’s a lot of work to stay up-to-date; here are some ballpark numbers for you to chew on:
- A single digital x-ray sensor can cost $5-12,000. Did you know you’re holding $5,000 in your mouth when we take your x-rays? Bet you didn’t? And they only last a couple years, too.
- Same-day crown systems, like our CEREC, cost $90-140,000
- A dental microscope costs $18-30,000
- Dental lasers cost between $2,500 (minimal abilities) – $90,000 (can do a lot)
Oh yeah, and that’s just the cost of the technology itself; it doesn’t include all the advanced training, plane tickets, hotels, meals, etc. that you have to keep up with every year. Most quality Continuing Education classes tend to run $1500-5,000 for 3 days, plus all the travel costs. REALLY advanced classes may cost $15,000!!!! And we don’t have some corporation paying that for us – it comes directly out of our pay. I wonder how many of the people making harsh comments like the one above have to pay $10-30,000 of their own money every year to stay current on their job. But somehow they think it’s OK to judge us as low-life scum? Yeah…..that hurts.
Dentistry is a GREAT Career that Requires a Lot of Hard Work
With all the negativity about my profession, and the huge costs associated with becoming a dentist, then staying current with the dramatic changes, one might think that dentistry is a lousy job choice. However, I beg to differ.
For all the reasons that I listed above, I truly love my profession and am proud to be a dentist. It’s exciting to be involved in cutting-edge technologies; it’s exciting to transform someone’s life for the better; it’s great to know people over multiple decades and get to know them; and so much more. Plus, while it is challenging to run a small business, I love being self-employed. There is a real freedom to having control of your own destiny, rather than working like a drudge in a cubicle for some company that never rewards you as you should be for what you do. And yes – if you work hard and take great care of people, you will make a very good living – far better than average.
Are Dentists Really All Rich?
Oh my – not even close! Many dentists actually struggle to make any more money than the average Joe Plumber, and I’m not kidding. For the first 10 years that I owned my own practice, I never made over $68,000. Admittedly, that was because I was absolutely lousy at budgeting, employee management, accounting, and a whole host of other reasons. And there are a lot more dentists like that, trust me! The debt load can be crushing (you just imagine paying $3,000 every month in student loans for 20 years, why don’t you?), and we don’t learn business, leadership, management, or accounting in dental school – we have to learn that all on our own afterwards.
No, I’m not going to tell you how much I make now, as that’s personal and none of your business. We do make a very good living, and I’ll leave it at that. But I do it by helping people, not taking advantage of them, and I never will. I have a conscience, ethics, and morals , and I want to sleep well at night, knowing that every day, I did my best to make people better in big and small ways. And for that, I’ve earned every penny honestly.
Plain and simple – the huge majority of dentists are good, honest, hard-working people who do what they do, because they love to help people. I want my daughters to know that I’m proud to be one! They can stand proud and tall, too, because they can trust that I will always do my best to be ethical, honest, and moral, and that every day, their Dad goes to work with the goal of making, and keeping people healthy.