Creating smiles

ARTISTICALLY INCLINED: Nicky Perdijk. Pic. Marianne Schwankhart. 10/09/2009. © Sunday Times.
ARTISTICALLY INCLINED: Nicky Perdijk. Pic. Marianne Schwankhart. 10/09/2009. © Sunday Times.

What goes into a day in the life of a dentist?

It is filled with various pressures. One works against time all day long and more often than not, you work with people who are in pain.

A general day is usually filled with a variety of procedures like consultations, restorations, extractions, root-canal treatments, crown and bridge work ans so on.

Why did you decide on this career?

I chose this career since I enjoy working with people. Also, dentistry is both challenging and satisfying because it requires skill, dexterity and some artistic inclination, thus never leaving you bored and unsatisfied.

How did you get into this career?

I studied BChD (a dentistry degree) at the University of Pretoria, which is a five-year course and ended off with a year community service.

What's challenging about the job?

Probably the fact that you are constantly working with people. Most people who visit the dentist are either in pain and normally don't like a dentist very much.

Being in control and making the patient feel calm and safe in this invasive environment requires your giving a great deal of yourself.

So when you are feeling down or under the weather, you have to hide it and this can be quite emotionally taxing. You are also working in very close proximity to your patient, your personal space is constantly invaded.

What do you enjoy the most about your career?

I enjoy the aesthetic aspect of dentistry. It is incredibly satisfying to change someone's life by giving them a new smile or fixing a broken front tooth so that it is not noticeable, or making an old lady's day with a new set of dentures.

It is the artistic side of dentistry that I enjoy more than anything. I also love working with children since they bring a fun and challenging element to this profession.

What type of person will make a success of this position?

I believe that anyone who puts their mind to it can make a success of this job, but there are a few characteristics that I find important.

You need to have good people skills saince you work with people all day, have the ability to stay calm and perform well under pressure and have high levels of patience because you work in a restricted space where various elements might compromise your treatment.

What subjects do you need to pass in high school to be able to study towards dentistry?

Science and mathematics are the most important and biology is very useful to have.

What does one study at tertiary level?

BChD or a Bachelor of Science degree followed by dentistry.

What growth prospects are there for this career?

You can either join an existing practice, start up your own practice or specialise in a chosen field.

What career opportunities exist for a dentist?

A dentist has a wide variety of opportunities within the profession, without needing to specialise.

However, a dentist can specialise in a specific field like maxillofacial surgery, periodontology, prosthodontics and so on.

What is the starting salary for a dentist?

There is usually no fixed starting salary for a dentist and one's salary depends on how hard you work. It also varies greatly from area to area. Most dentists work for a salary based on commission calculated on a sliding scale of their monthly turnover.