The Second Rarest Job in America: Atlanta Dentist Discusses New Bureau of Labor Statistics that Reveal Low Number of Prosthodontists

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While the United States boasts well over 185,000 general dentists, less than 4000 of those also practice the dental specialty referred to as prosthodontics. Atlanta dentist and prosthodontist, Dr. David Zelby, examines the statistics and discusses why so few dental professionals are drawn to this challenging but satisfying specialized field.

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Why don’t more children say they want to be prosthodontists when they grow up? The reason may be that most children, not to mention most adults, have never heard of this particular specialized field. Earlier this year, Forbes published findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment and Wage Estimates Survey which revealed that prosthodontists hold the second least common job in America, right after private household chefs. In fact, of the 1.2 million businesses surveyed, only 560 people in the U.S. currently practice prosthodontics exclusively. When general dentists who also practice prosthodontics are factored in, the number increases to nearly 4000, according to the American College of Prosthodontists.

Dr. David Zelby, a general dentist and prosthodontist practicing in Atlanta, describes the field as an internationally recognized dental specialty that focuses on helping restore the appearance and function or the oral structures in patients with missing or severely compromised teeth. In other words, prosthodontists have received extensive training in designing, fitting, and placing dental prosthetics like dentures, partial dentures, and bridges. Dental implants, one of the newest solutions for replacing missing teeth, have become increasingly popular and prosthodontists work closely with oral surgeons to place, design, and restore implant-supported dentures, crowns, and bridges.

After earning a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree from an accredited dental school, general dentists can choose to pursue additional training in specialties ranging from pediatric dentistry to dental public health. As the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) explains, post-doctorate study in a dental specialty generally requires 24-36 months of schooling and hands-on training. This type of additional education is not attractive to every dental school graduate. Indeed, according to the ADEA, 80% of people who earn their DDS or DMD practice general or family dentistry and do not specialize. Of those that do, prosthodontics is the least common field of study.

Which begs the question: why aren’t more people drawn to prosthodontics? The money is certainly there. As Forbes reports, prosthodontists earn an average salary of $130,820 (although the top practitioners earn closer to $180K).

Dr. Zelby believes the answer has more to do with interest than salary. As with many highly specialized occupations, excelling in prosthodontics requires a high level of personal interest combined with a great deal of natural skill and steady hands. Dr. Zelby recalls the utter fascination he felt during his first year in dental school watching the senior students create models for their final projects. “To a layperson, making a set of dentures might seem like no more than attaching plastic teeth to plastic gums,” says Dr. Zelby. In reality, ensuring that a patient can speak, smile, and chew normally with dentures (or bridgework or dental implants) requires precision treatment planning and an eye for facial aesthetics.

For people with the passion and dedication to pursue prosthodontics, the rewards go far beyond income. Many patients seek the services of a prosthodontist because they have suffered from severe trauma to the mouth and jaw, often as the result of car wrecks or sports injuries. Planning and executing a complex treatment plan that restores a patient’s smile brings a level of satisfaction seldom found in other professions. As Dr. Zelby notes, “Handing a patient a mirror and seeing the glow of their faces when they see their renewed smiles is a life confirming commitment for me.”

Dr. David Zelby specializes in restorative dentistry and dental prosthetics and practices at Aesthetic & Implant Dentistry of Atlanta. To speak to Dr. Zelby about dental implants, teeth replacement, or any general dental health concern, call (770) 995-0550 or visit http://www.drdavidzelby.com.

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Regina Hersey
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