80% - 85% of dentists are general dentists. During four years of course work and clinical experiences in dental school and an optional one year residency through an AEGD or GPR program, general dentists learn a broad spectrum of knowledge and skills to meet most of the oral health needs of the general population. While a general dentist has some training in each of the specialty areas, the majority of work a general dentist performs consists of restorative procedures including amalgam and composite restorations as well as crown, bridge and veneer placement in addition to general cleanings and checkups. Most dentists also perform head and neck cancer screenings, root canal therapy, partial and complete denture construction and maintenance, tooth extractions, minor periodontal therapy, and pediatric procedures. Some general dentists also receive additional training to place implants, perform some minor orthodontic treatments, remove impacted teeth and perform advanced anesthesia among other procedures.
Composite restoration on a fractured tooth
One of the many positives of becoming a general dentist is that you are presented with a wide area of cases each day and are able to choose the procedures you want to perform. For example, some dentists dislike performing root canal therapy and so choose to refer all of their endodontic patients to an endodontist. Others enjoy the challenge of root canals and elect to perform most of their patient's root canals themselves.
General dentistry requires 4 years of dental school after completing undergraduate requirements (see the dental school application info section for more information). General dentistry does not require a residency, except for in New York state where general dentists are required to complete one year of post-graduate work. While residency elsewhere is not required, a large percentage of graduating dental students choose to pursue additional training in an AEGD or GPR program to be better prepared for practicing on their own. Most general dentistst work in small private practices, although some work in large group practices, while others work at universities, hospitals or in the military. The average income for a general dentist is approximately $186,000 per year, according to the ADA.
AEGD: Advanced Education in General Dentistry
AEGD residency programs usually take place in a clinical setting and last for one year, although a few have two year programs. At the basic level you can think of it as an additional year of the same type of clinical training received during the 4 years of dental school. The difference is that usually there is less supervision and AEGD residents will take on more difficult cases and are expected to complete them at a faster pace. The purpose of this year of training is to help increase the speed and proficiency of performing the various procedures of general dentistry and serve as a transition period between dental school and private practice. AEGD residents also get exposure to more elaborate procedures and gain additional skills. Most AEGD programs provide a stipend to the students who are accept that may be as high as $30,000 - $40,000 for the year.
GPR: General Practice Residency
GPR residency programs also last for one or two years, but are hospital based. In these residency programs, the dentists will also have the opportunity increase their speed and proficiency, but also gain experiences in treating individuals who are medically compromised and develop more surgical skills. Residents will also go through rotations through general medicine, general surgery and anesthesiology during the course of the year. Like the AEGD programs, most GPR residencies provide a stipend to the accepted dentists.
To find a listing of AEGD and GPR programs available, visit the ADEA PASS program search engine page and select the type of program you are interested in.