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The Best (& Worst) States for Dentists in 2021

Asian female dentist using a light on a patient

No matter where you are in your career -- whether you’ve just earned your license or are a veteran dentist -- location is a big factor that you’ll want to consider as you decide where to practice. Seemingly small details like the city, state, or even work setting can have a significant impact on your earning potential. For example, it might not surprise you to hear that states with higher populations like California and New York tend to employ more dentists than states with smaller populations. Or that cities and states with a high cost of living tend to offer higher salaries than those cities and states. But did you know that dentists who work in dental offices don’t necessarily make as much money as those who work in mental health or substance abuse facilities?

Moral of the story: you’ve got options - lots of them. So now, you’ll want to focus on some data to help decide where to lay down roots. To help you figure this out, we collected data and rankings for each state along 5 metrics that play a key role in a dentist's professional and personal lives:

  • Salary
  • Demand/Job Growth
  • Affordability/Cost of Living
  • Quality of Life
  • Licensure Requirements

Below, we've provided you with a high-level summary of the best and worst states for dentists in 2021 across those 5 factors. If you want to dig deeper into the data, we've also provided detailed explanations of how each metric was calculated, along with state-by-state rankings for all 50 states.

SUMMARY: The Best & Worst States for Dentists in 2021

For your skimming pleasure, here's a high-level summary of the best and worst states for dentists in 2021.

The Best & Worst States for Dentists: Salaries

The 5 Highest-Paying States for Dentists
1. Rhode Island: $258,920/year
2. Vermont: $254,190/year
3. Alaska: $242,850/year
4. Maine: $236,060/year
5. New Hampshire: $222,430/year
The 5 Lowest-Paying States for Dentists
46. Utah: $147,730
47. Louisiana: $145,980
48. Wyoming: $133,750
49. Kentucky: $128,850
50. West Virginia: $127,950

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) - "Occupational Employment and
Wages Data for 'Dentists (General)' - May 2020"
(Last accessed June 2021)


The Best & Worst States for Dentists: Demand/Job Growth (2018-2028)

The 5 States With the Highest Projected Job Growth for Dentists
1. Idaho: 34.3% job growth
2. Texas: 31.7% job growth
3. New York: 21% job growth
4. Washington: 20.2% job growth
5. Tennessee: 19.3% job growth
The 5 States With the Lowest Projected Job Growth for Dentists
46. Michigan: -0.7% job growth
47. Kentucky: -2.7% job growth
48. Kansas: -6.8% job growth
49. Rhode Island: -8.1% job growth
50. Massachusetts: -8.5% job growth

Source: ProjectionsCentral.com - "Long-Term Occupational Projections for 'Dentists (General)': 2018-2028" (Last accessed June 2021)


The Best & Worst States for Dentists: Affordability/Cost of Living

The 5 Most Affordable States for Dentists
1. Ohio
2. Oklahoma
3. Michigan
4. Iowa
5. Missouri
The 5 Least Affordable States for Dentists
46. Oregon
47. Alaska
48. Massachusetts
49. California
50. Hawaii

Source: U.S. News & World Report - "Best States of 2021 - Affordability Rankings" (Last accessed June 2021)


The Best & Worst States for Dentists: Quality of Life

The 5 Best States for Dentists' Quality of Life
1. Washington
2. Minnesota
3. Utah
4. New Hampshire
5. Idaho
The 5 Worst States for Dentists' Quality of Life
46. Alabama
47. West Virginia
48. New Mexico
49. Mississippi
50. Louisiana

Source: U.S. News & World Report - "Best States of 2021 Rankings" (Last accessed June 2021)

Dentist Salaries: By State

It shouldn't come as any surprise that most job-hunters focus a lot of their attention on their earning potential. That said, salaries tend to vary (and sometimes significantly) from state to state. To help you get an idea of how much you potentially could make in each state, we've shared the latest BLS salary data for general dentists below, in order from highest to lowest salaries.

(Keep in mind that all BLS data reflects the employment and wage numbers for dentists as of May 2020, which the BLS published in May 2021.)

Dentist Salaries: State by State

Rank State Average Annual Salary for Dentists Average Hourly Pay for Dentists
1 Rhode Island $258,920 $124.48
2 Vermont $254,190 $122.21
3 Alaska $242,850 $116.75
4 Maine $236,060 $113.49
5 New Hampshire $222,430 $106.94
6 Connecticut $221,440 $106.46
7 Oregon $215,750 $103.73
8 Minnesota $213,310 $102.55
9 Michigan $213,250 $102.52
10 Idaho $206,360 $99.21
11 Massachusetts $205,160 $98.63
12 North Dakota $203,890 $98.03
13 Nevada $203,450 $97.81
14 Hawaii $202,890 $97.55
15 Wisconsin $200,640 $96.46
16 Arizona $199,660 $95.99
17 Illinois $198,480 $95.42
18 Ohio $196,920 $94.67
19 Virginia $196,890 $94.66
20 South Dakota $187,850 $90.31
21 Washington $187,520 $90.16
22 Colorado $184,550 $88.73
23 Texas $184,410 $88.66
24 Oklahoma $182,190 $87.59
25 Florida $180,920 $86.98
26 Maryland $180,600 $86.83
27 North Carolina $178,980 $86.05
28 Nebraska $178,490 $85.81
29 New Jersey $177,570 $85.37
30 Georgia $175,880 $84.56
31 Alabama $172,050 $82.72
32 Montana $171,950 $82.67
33 Indiana $171,730 $82.56
34 Kansas $170,710 $82.07
35 New York $170,350 $81.90
36 Iowa $169,990 $81.73
37 Mississippi $168,250 $80.89
38 Tennessee $167,460 $80.51
39 New Mexico $166,910 $80.24
40 Arkansas $163,260 $78.49
41 California $160,300 $77.07
42 South Carolina $159,810 $76.83
43 Missouri $157,030 $75.50
44 Pennsylvania $155,360 $74.69
45 Utah $147,730 $71.02
46 Louisiana $145,980 $70.18
47 Wyoming $133,750 $64.30
48 Kentucky $128,850 $61.95
49 West Virginia $127,950 $61.51
50 Delaware N/A - No Data Provided N/A - No Data Provided

Demand/Job Growth for Dentists: By State

The more job openings there are, the greater the need there is for a specific profession. Below, we’ve shared occupational projection numbers from Projections Central to show you how much demand there will be for dentists on a state-by-state basis between now and 2028, both in terms of raw job opening numbers and job growth percentage. We've ordered the states from highest to lowest numbers of projected job openings.

You’ll notice that there are some two-way ties in the number of job openings. Within those tied pairs, we ranked them based on who had the higher job growth percentage.

Projected Job Demand for Dentists (2018-2028): State by State

Overall Rank State Average Annual Job Openings for Dentists Job Growth Percentage (2018-2028)
1 California 880 11.4%
2 Texas 660 31.7%
3 New York 580 21%
4 Florida 370 12.8%
5 Washington 330 20.2%
6 North Carolina 200 16%
7 Illinois 180 2.6%
8 Maryland 160 19.2%
9 New Jersey 160 5.4%
10 Colorado 150 18.3%
11 Georgia 150 9.6%
12 Pennsylvania 150 4.5%
13 Virginia 140 8.4%
14 Michigan 130 -0.7%
15 Ohio 120 -0.5%
16 Tennessee 110 19.3%
17 Oregon 110 12.4%
18 Utah 100 18.7%
19 Minnesota 90 11.7%
20 Indiana 90 7.7%
21 Wisconsin 80 3.3%
22 Massachusetts 80 -8.5%
23 South Carolina 70 9.1%
24 Missouri 70 7.6%
25 Arizona 60 16.7%
26 Iowa 60 11%
27 Connecticut 50 7.9%
28 Alabama 50 5.4%
29 Arkansas 40 10.2%
30 Oklahoma 40 1.8%
31 Nebraska 30 8.2%
32 New Mexico 30 5.3%
33 Hawaii 30 3.8%
34 Kentucky 30 -2.7%
35 Kansas 30 -6.8%
36 %
37 Louisiana 20 18.8%
38 New Hampshire 20 6.9%
39 Nevada 20 5.9%
40 Montana 20 3.1%
41 Maine 20 0%
42 West Virginia 20 0%
43 Idaho 10 34.3%
44 North Dakota 10 10.5%
45 Alaska 10 8.7%
46 South Dakota 10 6.9%
47 Wyoming 10 6.3%
48 Mississippi 10 5.8%
49 Delaware 10 3%
50 Rhode Island 10 -8.1%

Cost of Living for Dentists: By State

Of course, no conversation around salary and job growth can be complete without also taking into account the cost of living for a given area. While having raw salary data can be helpful to give you a general idea of your earning potential, you'll get a much more realistic picture of your actual income when you understand just how much of it will be going toward living and housing expenses.

To help you get a better picture of your earning potential in different states, we turned to U.S. News's 2021 Affordability Rankings, which was part of their larger Overall Best States of 2021 ranking (more on this later). To determine how affordable each state was, U.S. News gave them scores on 2 metrics: cost of living and housing affordability. Based on those scores, each state then received an overall ranking on a scale of 1 to 50, with 1 being the most affordable and 50 being the least affordable.

Below, you'll find U.S. News's Affordability rankings for all 50 states, along with their respective scores across the 2 metrics.

2021 Cost of Living Rankings: State by State

Overall Rank State Cost of Living Score Housing Affordability Score
1 Ohio 6 2
2 Oklahoma 8 3
3 Michigan 4 7
4 Iowa 17 1
5 Missouri 3 9
6 Indiana 11 4
7 Arkansas 2 13
8 West Virginia 13 5
9 Kentucky 7 15
10 Mississippi 1 20
11 Nebraska 21 6
12 Kansas 16 12
13 Georgia 9 18
14 South Dakota 23 11
15 Pennsylvania 26 8
16 Illinois 19 14
17 Tennessee 5 26
18 Alabama 10 25
19 Wisconsin 20 16
20 Louisiana 15 23
21 North Dakota 33 10
22 Texas 14 28
23 Minnesota 28 17
24 North Carolina 12 31
25 South Carolina 18 32
26 New Mexico 24 35
27 Delaware 34 24
28 Virginia 30 34
29 Arizona 27 37
30 Idaho 22 42
31 Florida 25 41
32 Montana 29 44
33 Wyoming 32 39
34 Utah 31 45
35 Maine 39 30
36 New York 37 38
37 New Jersey 42 22
38 New Hampshire 43 21
39 Vermont 41 29
40 Connecticut 46 19
41 Nevada 35 43
42 Maryland 44 27
43 Colorado 36 48
44 Washington 38 47
45 Rhode Island 45 33
46 Oregon 40 46
47 Alaska 48 36
48 Massachusetts 47 40
49 California 50 49
50 Hawaii 49 50

Quality of Life for Dentists: By State

Once we got a better understanding of what each state could offer dentists as far as earning potential, job growth, and cost of living, we decided to find out the kind of quality of life they could expect to have in each area. To do this, we turned to U.S. News’ 2021 Best States Rankings, which considered a whole host of natural and social environment factors on a state-by-state basis. They determined each state's rank by first scoring them along the following 8 metrics:

  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Economy
  • Infrastructure
  • Opportunity
  • Fiscal Stability
  • Crime & Corrections
  • Natural Environment

The scores were on a scale of 1 to 50, with 1 being the best and 50 best the worst. They then used those scores to provide an overall ranking for each state. (You can read more about their methodology here.) Below, we've provided you with quality of life rankings for all 50 states, along with their scores for each of the 8 individual metrics.

2021 Quality of Life Rankings: State by State

Overall Rank State Healthcare Score Education Score Economy Score Infrastructure Score Opportunity Score Fiscal Stability Score Crime & Corrections Score Natural Environment Score
1 Washington 8 4 4 3 25 6 19 15
2 Minnesota 16 17 15 9 2 21 15 10
3 Utah 11 10 1 5 30 5 8 47
4 New Hampshire 13 13 11 34 3 33 1 2
5 Idaho 24 29 3 10 24 4 10 12
6 Nebraska 28 9 20 6 10 17 31 6
7 Virginia 12 12 13 39 8 18 9 19
8 Wisconsin 15 8 26 24 9 9 25 17
9 Massachusetts 2 2 5 42 36 43 4 4
10 Florida 25 3 8 20 33 8 26 18
11 Vermont 18 15 25 12 17 37 3 9
12 Iowa 20 18 27 19 1 23 14 20
13 North Carolina 30 7 17 22 28 7 20 27
14 North Dakota 27 25 32 4 23 16 18 8
15 South Dakota 29 19 30 14 27 2 35 3
16 Colorado 10 5 2 15 41 45 41 23
17 Maryland 6 14 35 38 15 29 22 11
18 Georgia 43 26 12 11 13 11 29 25
19 New Jersey 4 1 33 41 19 49 5 33
20 Connecticut 3 6 22 46 45 30 6 28
21 New York 7 16 43 30 46 20 11 5
22 Oregon 17 35 14 2 31 13 40 42
23 Delaware 14 24 24 25 14 12 39 45
24 California 5 20 10 31 50 36 28 35
25 Hawaii 1 27 46 33 34 46 12 1
26 Kansas 41 23 31 7 16 39 27 16
27 Maine 26 28 36 37 29 26 2 14
28 Missouri 42 30 23 27 4 15 45 21
29 Tennesse 40 33 16 17 21 3 42 39
30 Illinois 23 11 39 26 12 50 16 43
31 Texas 31 34 9 16 39 10 37 40
32 Indiana 32 22 21 32 7 32 24 48
33 Montana 36 32 19 13 35 19 34 24
34 Rhode Island 9 39 28 49 32 44 7 7
35 Wyoming 38 21 45 8 42 34 21 13
36 Ohio 37 31 34 29 6 24 32 44
37 Nevada 39 40 6 1 47 27 36 50
38 Michigan 35 38 29 35 5 38 30 32
39 Arizona 21 46 7 23 40 40 38 41
40 Pennsylvania 19 37 42 44 11 47 17 38
41 Kentucky 44 36 40 18 20 48 13 29
42 South Carolina 34 44 18 36 38 31 46 26
43 Oklahoma 48 42 37 21 26 25 44 34
44 Arkansas 49 41 41 43 22 14 48 30
45 Alaska 22 49 50 40 43 1 49 46
46 Alabama 45 47 38 28 37 22 43 37
47 West Virginia 47 45 48 50 18 28 23 36
48 New Mexico 33 50 44 45 49 35 47 31
49 Mississippi 50 43 49 48 44 41 33 22
50 Louisiana 46 48 47 47 48 42 50 49

Dental Licensure Requirements: By State

So, you might know where you want to live -- or have a few cities in mind, but what are their states’ requirements for dentists? The American Dental Association (ADA) provides state by state details on license requirements, as the individual state is the “final authority” on requirements to practice dentistry. If applying for a dental license in the majority of U.S. licensing jurisdictions, you must meet three basic requirements:

  • Dental Education: Most states require a DDS or DMD degree from a university accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).
  • Written Exam: All applicants must pass Part I and Part II of the multiple-choice written National Board Dental Examination.
  • Clinical Exam: The individual state board of dentistry will establish its own clinical exam requirement, but most rely on a regional board to administer the exam. Information on the five clinical testing agencies can be found here. Only two states — Delaware and New York — do not use a clinical testing agency.
    • Delaware: This state has its own practical exam and requires further post-grad education or experience.
    • New York: This state requires a dentistry doctoral degree and completion of postdoctoral practice or specialty dental residency program for one year.

There may be additional licensure requirements by state, but the aforementioned three basic requirements must meet the standard passing rate in each state. Some additional requirements may include:

Find a complete list of the initial licensure requirements by state on the ADA’s website.

Figuring Out Which Location Is Right for You

When doing your research on where to operate as a dentist, you’ll obviously want to find out how much you’ll be paid, cost of living in any given area, and what your quality of life will be. But also consider the type of industry you’ll be working in. For example, the BLS lists these top-paying industries for dentists with the accompanying annual mean wages:

  1. Residential Intellectual & Developmental Disability, Mental Health, & Substance Abuse Facilities: $197,370/year
  2. Offices of Other Health Practitioners: $195,850/year
  3. State Government, Excluding Schools & Hospitals (OES Designation): $183,320/year
  4. Offices of Dentists: $180,660/year
  5. Employment Services: $165,330/year

The mean annual wage for general dentistry is $178,260. That means you could potentially make about $20,000 more just by practicing out of a facility specific to patients with developmental disabilities or those coping with mental health or substance abuse issues.

Also take into account the employment levels for dentists in each state. For example, in May 2019, California employed about 16,220 dentists, while Illinois employed only about 3,850 dentists. This might mean that if you’re becoming a dentist in California, you’d be entering a more saturated market than one in a smaller state like Illinois.

It’s up to you to decide what’s most important to you as a dentist and in life. Figure out what determines success for you and your family, and then focus on which states, cities, and industries can provide you with what you need to live your best life. Good luck!


Image courtesy of iStock.com/Portra


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berxi™ or Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company. This article (subject to change without notice) is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute professional advice.

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