Whether you’re a recent graduate from dental school or a veteran dentist, location is always a factor when establishing your dental practice or contemplating your next career move. Determining the best state to be a dentist is a complex challenge since the definition of “best” can depend on each dentist’s preferences. Plus, things like cost of living, population, and demand for dental professionals can vary greatly depending on the location.
The state or metropolitan area where you choose to practice can have a significant impact on your earning potential and quality of life. For example, it might not surprise you to hear that the demand for dentists is higher in more populous states like California and New York than in states with smaller populations, or that areas with high costs of living tend to offer higher salaries than do more affordable living areas. Even the workplace setting can make a difference. For example, did you know that dentists who work in general dental offices often have lower annual wages than dentists who work in state government settings?
All of this is to say that you have many options and many factors to consider when planning the next step in your career. To help streamline the research and decision-making process, we’ve collected data and rankings for the best states to practice dentistry — and the worst — in several categories using metrics like these:
- Demand/Job Growth
- Affordability/Cost of Living
- Quality of Life
- Licensure Requirements
Let’s take a look at where in the country you might find the most satisfaction working as a dentist.
Overview: The 10 Best & Worst States for Dentists in 2024
What does it mean to be the best state? Zippia, a site focused on jobs and career paths, determined “best” and “worst” states by analyzing three metrics: job availability, pay, and cost of living. Here’s what their data suggested:
The 10 Best States for Dentists
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
The 10 Worst States for Dentists
- New York
- West Virginia
How Much Do Dentists Make? Highest & Lowest Salaries By State
When choosing where to establish your dental practice or where to work as a licensed dentist, salary is certainly one key factor to consider. Based on the most recent data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following five states offer the highest average salaries for dentists. All rank above the national average for dental salaries.
The Highest-Paying States for Dentists (by Annual Mean Wage)
- Delaware: $206,270
- Rhode Island: $204,770
- North Carolina: $202,550
- New Hampshire: $200,970
- Arkansas: $192,400
Conversely, here are the five states with the lowest mean dental salaries in the country.
The Lowest-Paying States for Dentists (by Annual Mean Wage)
- Colorado: $153,700
- West Virginia: $145,300
- South Dakota: $144,860
- Idaho: $141,170
- Utah: $131,490
Which States Have the Highest/Lowest Job Growth Potential?
Before you choose to change to another location to practice dentistry, it’s important to consider the area’s job market, specifically the potential for growth in the dental industry. Moving to an area that is already saturated with dentists or doesn’t project a lot of potential for growth might not be wise, while practicing in an area with a high job growth potential can catapult you up the career and earnings ladder.
Below, we’ve compiled the five best and worst states for job growth potential for dentists.
The States With the Highest Job Growth for Dentists (Based on Projected Growth Percentage from 2020-2030)
- Arizona: 38%
- Washington: 33.2%
- Connecticut: 26.6%
- Texas: 26.4%
- Utah: 26.0%
The States With the Lowest Job Growth for Dentists (Based on Projected Growth Percentage from 2020-2030)
- Kansas: 2.3%
- Rhode Island: 1.5%
- Maryland: 0.4%
- Maine: 0%
- Louisiana: -0.6%
Which States Have the Best/Worst Cost of Living?
The cost of living in a particular area is another important factor in your career location decision. Knowing how much living expenses such as housing, food, and transportation cost in a certain state will help you better understand how far your salary will stretch, how much you’ll need for basic expenses, and how much you’ll have for discretionary purchases or investment in your dental practice.
Here are the five best and worst states for cost of living.
The States With the Best Cost of Living for Dentists
- West Virginia
The States With the Worst Cost of Living for Dentists
- New York
- New Jersey
Which States Have the Best/Worst Quality of Life?
What factors matter the most to you when judging your quality of life? Excellent school systems, low crime rates, or plenty of outdoor activities? Considering what else you value in addition to financial security will help increase your overall life satisfaction and prevent workplace fatigue and burnout.
U.S. News & World Report considers many factors when ranking the best states to live in, including healthcare, education, economy, infrastructure, public safety, natural environment, fiscal stability, and available opportunities. According to its 2023 rankings, these states offer the best and worst quality of life:
The States With the Best Quality of Life for Dentists
The States With the Worst Quality of Life for Dentists
- West Virginia
- New Mexico
What Are the State-by-State Dental Licensure Requirements?
After weighing all of the above data, you may have an idea of where you’d like to live and work. But before making any decisions, it’s important to check the state dental licensure requirements, to make sure that you have all the licenses and certifications you need to work in your desired area.
The American Dental Association (ADA) provides state-by-state details on license requirements so that you know exactly what you need to be permitted to work in your state of choice. If applying for a dental license in the majority of U.S. licensing jurisdictions, you must meet three basic requirements:
Most states require a DDS or DMD degree from a university accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).
All applicants must pass Part I and Part II of the multiple-choice, written National Board Dental Examination.
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:
- Minimum age (18 or 21)
- Proof of dental malpractice insurance
- Background check
- Courses in other specified topics
Find a complete list of the initial licensure requirements by state on the ADA’s website.
Wherever you choose to practice, it’s important to protect yourself and your practice against any potential lawsuits or litigation. Explore our options for dental malpractice insurance, learn how it can protect you, and get a free quote today.
How to Figure Out Which Location Is Right for You
The above factors should all weigh into your decision of where to live and practice. However, there are other variables that both new dentists and established professionals should also consider. For example, are you passionate about providing dental services to underserved areas? Do you want to specialize in a certain area of preventative care, oral health, or general dental wellness?
Additionally, don’t limit your work environment to a traditional dentist’s office. There are dentist jobs available in other settings, too, some of which pay, on average, very well.
For example, the BLS lists these additional top-paying industries for dentists, based on annual mean wage.
- State Government, Excluding Schools & Hospitals: $195,900/year
- Other Ambulatory Health Care Services: $185,940/year
- Outpatient Care Centers: $170,580/year
- Physicians’ Offices: $166,260/year
Now that you’re armed with the latest statistics, you can take this information and use it to make the best decision for your future. Just because a certain state is included in our list of “best states for dentists to live” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best place for you to live. Deciding where to make your life and career is a deeply personal decision and varies from individual to individual. Choose your next career move based on what factors matter the most to you. We know you’ll make the best possible decision for yourself. Good luck!