Why you shouldn’t study dentistry: Confessions of a practising dentist

The author is a Dentist, who currently works in the private sector.

Ah boy ah! Don’t study Medicine, you see all those doctors, work until so late, so tired, go study Dentistry, everyday can panggang so early, earn so much money, go home relax, very shiok one leh!

Dentistry’s a pretty popular course these days. People somehow seem to think that dentists seem to have it all, an awesome pay, an easy job and great working hours.

To be honest, those 3 words, awesome, easy and great are all very relative terms, which could mean different things to different people. Some people see awesome as a $30,000/month salary whereas others could simply see it as a $7,000/month salary, so it all depends. In my honest opinion, the pay is not bad, the job isn’t extremely hard, and the working hours are well, ok I suppose.

1. The Pay is Not that Great

Dentistry pays decently, but it really doesn’t pay that much. The golden days of Dentistry are long gone. The days of dentists riding around is BMWs and Ferraris are long over. Granted, there are some dentist who have made it big, rolling around with the big guns but they are the exception, not the norm.

I know you guys like to say wahhhh, scale one teeth $100 already leh! Do one wisdom tooth extraction, few thousands dollars leh! Yes it’s true, dental fees are expensive in Singapore no doubt! However, not a lot of it does to the operating clinician, aka the dentists. Dental equipment and material is really expensive, getting the lab to fabricate your dentures and crowns could cost you the bulk of the fees you paid, the need to hire an assistant to do the job with you, to pay the receptionist, and to set up a clinic itself is a huge overhead cost.

Did you know the chair you sat on at the dentist would in itself already cost at least $50,000, with better models costing over a $100,000 per chair? Not to mention the piping and setting up of the entire clinic, which could easily come up to half a million dollars just to set up a small clinic? Average dentist who reap $8-10k a month after a decade of experience, would be considered to be living a good dental life already. With that salary, trust me, you’re not going to be riding around in sports cars and living in condos anytime in your youth.

2. Debt is Real

Beyond the issue of pay, debt is a highly relevant point. Tuition fees in Dentistry are insane. Even with government subsidies, it costs around $28,000+ a year to study Dentistry in NUS. With a meagre starting pay of $4,000 (much less after CPF etc) being bonded to the government for 4 years, the Straits Times has ranked Dentistry to be the Major with the lowest returns.

Yep, see that, if you want to be rich, go study computing, even Straits Times agrees.

Also, if you find dental school too hard, which it really is, with around 5-10% of the cohort not managing to graduate on time, you can’t exactly quit since that would entail breaking the contract you have with the government, forcing you to fork out $400,000 if you decide to bail.

Furthermore, you need to do Continuing Dental Education throughout your career lifespan, which means spending more money to keep your license.

3. A Mental Toll

Dentistry takes up quite a mental toll for some dentists, not all. If you’re a practitioner at the public sector, you’re severely underpaid but you’ve a decent work-life balance. However, whether or not you’re in the private or public sector, you have a key performance indicator to meet, meaning you’ve got to see xxx amount of patients or earn xxx amount of money for the hospital/clinic during your limited hours there, hence it tends to be a mad rush day in and out for most dentists. Not only is this exhausting, it might feel horrible because patients who are in pain come in trusting you with their health, but due to the pressure put on you, you’ve got to clear them ASAP, often times, giving them less than what they deserve, something I struggle with reconciling every day when I rush my patients in and out of clinics so as to clear case work.

In the private sector, some clinics will pressurise dentists to work longer hours or to earn more money for the clinic by recommending unnecessary treatments for patients, in an attempt to raise sales and revenue, which goes against my very conscience.

4. A Physical Toll

Most dentists end up with musculoskeletal conditions such as chronic back and neck pain due to their posture and nature of the job. These conditions can become so debilitating the demand physical therapy and chiropractic treatment, which don’t come by cheap. Many dentists and even research papers have classified such conditions as an inevitability of Dentistry. In the UK alone, dentists have claimed up to 1.5 million pounds in fees against the Dental Provident Fund to pay off their therapy for neck and back pain.

 

Such chronic pain could be so bad, it might lead to dentists having to work shorter hours and earning less in order to ease their pain.

5. You’re Only as Good as Your Hands and Eyes

You’ve watched Doctor Strange I assume, so you know a surgeon is only as good as his hands or eyes. If any of those give way, by means of a freak accident, or old age, your career is pretty much over.

Now that I’ve given you a bigger picture of Dentistry, and that it’s not as rosy as it seems, I encourage you to think twice before joining us in the Dental industry, before committing yourself to a rigorous hell-ish curriculum here in Singapore, or spending half a million to buy a degree overseas.

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