Dentists study and treat diseases, injuries and problems of the mouth, teeth, gums and jaw. They also educate patients on how to avoid oral health problems.
Dentists with up to three years’ experience usually earn
$65K-$85K per year
Dentists with more than three years' experience usually earn
$85K-$186K per year
Source: Assn of Salaried Medical Specialists, 2017 and Emigrate NZ, 2018.
Pay for dentists varies depending on their experience, location and size of their practice.
- Dentists with up to three years' experience usually earn between $65,000 and $85,000 a year.
- Dentists with more than three years' experience usually earn between $85,000 and $186,000.
- Dental specialists usually earn between $158,000 and $240,000.
Sources: Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, 2017; and Emigrate New Zealand, 2018.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Dentists may do some or all of the following:
- examine patients' mouth, teeth, gums and jaw
- identify and treat diseased teeth and gums
- replace missing teeth with implants, bridges, or partial or full dentures
- improve the appearance of teeth with veneers, crowns, bleaching or braces
- advise patients on how to keep their teeth clean and prevent diseases
- refer patients to other dental specialists and health professionals
- dental research.
Skills and knowledge
Dentists need to have knowledge of:
- how to assess and identify dental problems
- the structure and functions of the teeth, jaw and mouth
- the structure and functions of the body, and general injuries and diseases of the body, especially the head and neck
- injuries and diseases of the mouth
- dental and oral health care methods, materials and medicines
- hygiene and sterilisation procedures
- first aid.
- usually work regular business hours, but may be required to do some evening and weekend work
- work in offices and surgeries in places such as private practices, hospitals and community health centres.
What's the job really like?
How did you get into dentistry?
“I kind of fell into it. When I was in my final year of secondary school I got a summer holiday job working at my dentist’s practice as a receptionist and dental assistant, and I loved it. Before that I thought I was going to be a doctor but that experience opened my eyes to dentistry.”
What do you enjoy and find most challenging about being a dentist?
“We’re busy, we get to meet lots of cool people from all walks of life and for me personally it’s the human interaction that I really enjoy.”
“There are lots of challenges. It’s hard seeing people in pain but the flipside is that we’re able to help people, which is quite a privilege.”
What advice would you give someone interested in a career in dentistry?
“Go and check it out and see what it actually involves. Definitely read about it, but go and talk to your local dentist as well to find out if you would be interested.
“It’s also worth starting to plan towards becoming a dentist early on because the first year of university is quite tricky and you’re expected to know a lot of science. So if you’re thinking of going down a health sciences career path it’s worth doing some science subjects at school if you can.”
Dr Scott Waghorn shares what it's like and what it takes to be a dentist – 2.42 mins
I am the dentist, founder and owner here at Dentalcare West.
Brook: Scott Waghorn has a Bachelors in Dentistry and studied calculus, statistics, chemistry, physics and English at high school. He is now one of the most recognised dentists in New Zealand and is the founder of Dentalcare West in Auckland.
Scott: How often do you go?
Brook: I've got great teeth, I floss, I'm good.
Scott: We'll see.
Brook: Yeah I flossed.
Brook: Where did all of this start for you?
Scott: It started very humble beginnings, just working in a little practice just over the road here. And working sort of six days a week, twelve hours a day, just as much as I could.
And basically just sitting in there and working hard and working hard and while everyone else was out having a party and a good time that was my thing I just wanted to get a really good patient base and a good following.
Brook: From dental technicians, anaesthetists, hygienists and assistants, this place has it all.
Scott: My best tooth joke is if I look at a gum and it's a bit swollen and I go "aw gummmm onnnnnn!". (laughter)
Scott: To break it down what you've got to do first is to be a good dentist. So you've got to go to dental school, graduate. As you become a good dentist you learn a few business things, you go to courses, and it just, yeah it happened very gradually. It's just putting in the mahi, especially when other people aren't. Just you know like a real passion, a real drive for it.
Brook: As an employer what are some of the good qualities I guess you would look for, if someone wanted to have a role in a place like this?
Scott: Well the main thing as an employer is the person has to have good character and has to have the right attitude. Because all of the things of the job of dentistry, you can teach that. For me it's like you've got to have a caring attitude, you've got to be nice, friendly, hopefully have some empathy, and everything else we can teach. So they're the main things.
To become a dentist you need to:
- complete the Health Sciences First Year programme at Otago University
- complete a four-year Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree at Otago University.
The University of Otago is the only university in New Zealand that offers a Bachelor of Dental Surgery.
- University of Otago website - information about the Health Sciences First Year Programme
- University of Otago website - information about the Bachelor of Dental Surgery
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include maths, chemistry, physics, biology, health education and English.
Additional requirements for specialist roles:
To specialise in an area of dentistry, such as orthodontics, you need to complete postgraduate study at the University of Otago. You also need to be registered as a dental specialist with the Dental Council of New Zealand.
Dentists need to be:
- able to relate to a wide range of people
- accurate, with an eye for detail
- able to work well under pressure
- good at problem solving and decision making.
People skills are crucial. It’s also important to be able to imagine walking in your patient’s shoes and understand how they’re feeling and why they’re feeling that way.
Useful experience for dentists includes work with people, particularly in the health industry.
Dentists need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses) and good hand-eye co-ordination.
Dentists need to be registered with the Dental Council of New Zealand.
Find out more about training
- University of Otago - Faculty of Dentistry
- (03) 479 7019 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.otago.ac.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Securing full-time work can take longer for newly-qualified dentists
Newly-qualified dentists may find it difficult to find work, because there is strong competition for vacancies and not all dental practices can provide the necessary support graduates need.
It may take up to a year for dentistry graduates to find full-time work, and initially they may work part time or at multiple dental practices.
According to the Census, 2,055 dentists and dental specialists worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Chances of finding work better in regions
Chances of finding work as a dentist are better outside the main centres as competition for roles is higher in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. There is also high competition for hospital dentistry roles.
Most dentists work in private dental practices
Most dentists are self-employed in a dental practice, but some are employees. Others are employed by:
- community dental services
- the New Zealand Army
- the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Otago.
- Dental Council of New Zealand, 'Workforce Analysis 2013-2015', July 2017.
- Meffan, A, dentist, careers.govt.nz interview, October 2018.
- New Zealand Dental Association, careers.govt.nz interview, November 2018.
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Dentists may progress to set up their own practice.
Dentists may specialise in an area of dentistry such as:
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon
- Oral and maxillofacial surgeons diagnose diseases, injuries, and defects of the jaw and surrounding structures. They also perform surgery to correct these diseases, injuries or defects.
- Oral Medicine Specialist
- Oral medicine specialists diagnose and manage the oral health care of patients with medically related disorders of the teeth and jaw.
- Orthodontists diagnose and correct bad bite, crooked teeth and poor jaw growth in children and young people. This often involves fitting braces and can involve correcting facial abnormalities such as a cleft palate.
- Paediatric Dentist
- Paediatric dentists provide oral health care to children from birth through to adolescence. Their work involves the management of dental problems related to behavioural, physical or developmental disabilities.
- Periodontists treat diseases of the gum to prevent tooth loss.
Last updated 13 August 2021