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Job: Dentist

Salary: The average salary is about $140,000 a year, depending on the location and size of the practice, says Peter Doig, president of the Canadian Dental Association. He said the median income across Canada is about $120,000.

Education: At least two years of undergraduate studies, followed by four years of dental school and another three years for specialties such as periodontics. The cost of the four-year program, which includes books and tuition, as well as clinical fees and equipment, can range from $40,000 in Quebec (where there are subsidies) to about $220,000 in British Columbia, Dr. Doig said.

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The role: "Dentistry is an artistic as well as scientific profession," the Canadian Dental Association says on its website. That includes an eye for making your teeth and gums look good and the ability to perform precise procedures in a small area. Dentists also need a good "chairside manner" to help their patients relax while undergoing potentially uncomfortable procedures. Dr. Doig also calls the profession a mix of health care and business, because many dentists run their own practices.

By the numbers: There are about 18,775 dentists in Canada, according to the 2011 National Household Survey. More than 70 per cent of them are self-employed.

Job prospects: Demand for dentists rises and falls with the economy. According to Dr. Doig, people tend to put off dental procedures and preventive care when the economy is doing poorly, and spend more on dental care when times are good.

Challenges: Few people look forward to fillings, root canals or being fitted for crowns, bridges or other dental appliances. "They are often not the most comfortable [procedures] that you can do on a person, so that does cloud sometimes the interaction," Dr. Doig said. It can also be challenge to run the practice, which requires entrepreneurial as well as dentistry skills.

Why they do it: Many dentists enjoy the challenge of surgery but don't want the long hours and unpredictable schedules of physicians. "The lifestyle is more advantageous than perhaps other areas of general medicine," Dr. Doig said.

Misconceptions: Dentists aren't rich. They are well compensated, Dr. Doig said, but dental school is expensive and there are high margins when running a dental practice. The job is also not boring. Dr. Doig said the work varies and dentists work with patients from a wide range of professions and backgrounds.

Give us the scoop: Are you a dentist in Canada or do you want to be? Write a note in the comments area of this story or e-mail your comment to careerquestion@globeandmail.com and let us know what you would tell others who are interested in the profession.

Want to read more stories from our Salaries Series? Find more here.

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