Why are dentists paid well?

“Why are there many options for dentists in my small neighborhood? Are they paid well? Why are they paid well?”. Although these sounds like the name of a chapter out of a Steven Levitt-Stephen J Dubner or Tim Harford book, these were the thoughts resonating inside my head when I stared into the white ceiling, laying on the adjustable reclining chair with an open mouth for the dentist to work his magic.

Dentists spend a lifetime perfecting the art of staring into someone’s mouth. So, why would anyone choose this occupation as a career? It does not sound like an exciting thing to do! But, as always, the elderly wise had a different thing to say when I was unsure of the career path. They insisted that dental science and the veterinary science were becoming lucrative options. I smirked in response. In the neighborhood where I currently live, there are three options for dentists. Two of these come in the form of dental clinics while the third one is an hospital with dental experts. All these options sprouted up under a span of an year. Now, I realize the elderly wise are indeed wise. Sometimes, they do get things wrong. For example, I do not see as many options for veterinarian clinics around me. But, mostly, they are right! After my recent visit to the neighborhood dentist, I came back home with a reverence for these holy men(and women) of teeth. The occupation is divine.

My visit to the dentist broke the long spell of procrastination, kicked off a few years back*. The long spell started after I found, for the first time, a cavity between left first premolar and the left second premolar in my upper teeth when I rolled my tongue to pull out an orphaned piece of juicy edible animal flesh that got entrapped there. The soft flesh of my tongue pressed against the cavity, triggering alarm bells in my mind. I was more worried about seeing the dentist than the cavity. Reluctantly, I decided to fix an appointment with the dentist the next day. But, the next day, for fixing an appointment, never dawned. When I finally visited the dentist, I walked into the clinic without a prior appointment. Over the time elapsed* between the decision and execution, my skills for procrastination touched new heights and the cavity widened into a crater.  My love for kebabs(both chicken and mutton) and beef (both steaks and kerala varieties) fueled the widening of the cavity. I have discounted fish from the list as they come with bone structure which can be broken down and used as a toothpick effectively and immediately!

The dentist agreed to see me after his finishing up his current patient. When he finally presented me with an audience, I poured out my heart to him. After listening to my problems, the dentist placed me in the reclining chair. The dentist had an ever-present smile on his lips which could be easily construed as a shameless display of his perfect teeth. He examined my dental structure using his occupational instruments. My carnivorous habits had led to other minor damages to my teeth. After the detailed examination wherein my teeth was X-rayed, he decided to work only on my cavity. Before filling my cavity, he decided to remove all the decay. As he worked towards removing the decay, he started sweating profusely. For an outsider, it looked like he was struggling to cut through a steak which was well done. After the struggle which seemed to be an eternity, he pulled out the offending piece of decay and placed it on a tissue paper in front me.

It was a guava seed. The last time I had guava was from a street vendor off Brigade Road! It has been a while** ago! If this is the tip of iceberg when compared to events in a normal day of a dentist, I need no explanation on why they are being paid high!

* Here, I’m deliberately being vague on the timelines. But if you are still curious, consider it less than a decade. So, it can be one year to 9 years 11 months 30 days.
** Deliberately not quoting the actual timelines!

Picture Courtesy: http://eastasiaforum.org

Tags: Musings,Dentist,Cavity


  1. I was amused by your following observation "Dentists spend a lifetime perfecting the art of staring into someone’s mouth. So, why would anyone choose this occupation as a career? It does not sound like an exciting thing to do!".......have you wondered about other specialty doctors who watch other less visible parts?


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