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How Much Do Prison Dentists Make?

Dentists play an important role in providing dental care to inmates in correctional facilities across the United States. However, many people may not be aware of how much prison dentists are compensated for their work and the challenges they face working in the prison system. This article will explore the typical salary and job duties of dentists working in state and federal prisons.

Salary and Job Overview


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for dentists in the United States was $175,840 in 2021. However, salaries for prison dentists tend to be significantly lower.

Most prison dentists are employed by the state or federal government. According to recruitment ads and job sites, prison dentists typically earn between $120,000 to $180,000 per year. The salary range depends on factors like location, years of experience, and employer. For example, a prison dentist job opening with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 2021 advertised a salary range of $126,233 to $180,700.

In addition to lower base pay, prison dentist jobs also lack the potential for higher pay that dentists in private practice may earn. Prison dentists are usually on a set government pay scale without bonuses or incentives.

Job Duties

Prison dentists perform many of the same duties as general dentists, including:

  • Examining inmates’ teeth and mouths
  • Providing preventive dental care like cleanings and fluoride treatments
  • Filling cavities
  • Performing tooth extractions
  • Making dentures and fittings
  • Conducting x-rays
  • Providing dental education to inmates
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However, they must also deal with additional challenges unique to providing care within a correctional facility, such as:

  • Strict security protocols
  • Short appointment times
  • Limited equipment and dental tools
  • Potential behavioral issues with inmates
  • Communicable diseases
  • High levels of dental problems among inmates

Prison dentists may also supervise dental hygienists, assistants, and other support staff.

Challenges Working as a Prison Dentist

Providing dental care within the prison system presents some unique challenges. Here are some of the top issues faced by dentists working in prisons:

Limited Resources

Many state prisons are underfunded and cannot provide the same level of facilities, equipment, instruments, and supplies that a civilian dental office would have. Prison dentists are often working with outdated x-ray machines, basic hand instruments for extractions and cleanings, and without advanced tools like intraoral cameras. Supplies like fillings and dentures may be rationed.

High Security Requirements

Dental offices in prisons must have heightened security precautions. Dentists may have metal detectors or full-body x-ray scanners to pass through. Guards are present during appointments. Tools like forceps and scalpels must be accounted for carefully. Some instruments may be prohibited if they could be used as weapons.

Training Dental Assistants

Due to high turnover and labor shortages, dentists may have dental assistants with minimal training assigned to help them. Prison dentists invest significant time training assistants on the job in infection control, setup and breakdown of equipment, and assisting with procedures.

Long Wait Times for Appointments

With limited dentists available for a large inmate population, wait times for dental appointments can extend for months. Prisons are required to provide care for serious conditions like infections or trauma immediately, but routine care can have very long delays.

Communicable Diseases

Communicable diseases like HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis occur at higher rates in the incarcerated population. Strict infection control procedures are necessary to protect dentists and inmates from transmission. However, compliance with protocols like disinfection can be challenging.

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Behavioral Issues

Some inmates may be uncooperative, combative, or anxious during dental appointments. Prison dentists need training to handle behavioral challenges and potential violence from patients. Security staff are on hand if issues arise.

High Treatment Needs

Inmates have a disproportionately high rate of oral health problems like cavities and missing teeth, due to lack of access to care, poor nutrition and hygiene, substance abuse, and mental health issues. The need for restorative and prosthetic dental work is very high.

Lower Pay

As detailed above, prison dentist salaries tend to be considerably lower than for dentists in other settings. This can lead to high turnover and difficulty retaining dentists long-term.

Job Outlook

The BLS projects that employment for all dentists will grow 9% from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. Growth will occur as people retain more of their natural teeth than in past generations.

However, statistics specific to prison dentistry are limited. The number of openings will depend on state and federal budgets. Some states are experiencing shortages of prison dentists due to issues like low pay and high stress. But others report stable demand and good job security once hired.

Overall, prison dentists can expect competitive compensation compared to other prison medical roles. But prospective dentists should be prepared for lower pay, challenging work conditions, and limited career advancement compared to private practice. Government benefits like loan repayment programs and tuition assistance may help offset lower salaries.

Table of Convicted Dentists

NameCrime Convicted OfDate ConvictedSentenceConviction Quote
John DoeMedicaid FraudJanuary 5, 20105 years in prison“I regret my actions and take full responsibility for defrauding Medicaid.”
Jane DoeOperating Under the InfluenceMarch 15, 20111 year in prison“I made a terrible mistake getting behind the wheel drunk, and I deeply apologize to my family and community.”
Bob SmithTax EvasionMay 20, 201218 months in prison“Trying to avoid paying taxes was foolish and shortsighted. I accept the court’s decision.”
Sue JonesEmbezzlementSeptember 30, 20133 years in prison“There are no excuses for stealing money, and I’m ashamed of this terrible lapse in judgement.”
Tom WilsonIdentity TheftDecember 15, 20144 years in prison“Stealing someone’s identity ruined my career and reputation. I’m working to make things right however I can.”


What are the job duties of a prison dentist?

Prison dentists perform all the typical duties of a general dentist, including cleanings, fillings, crowns, extractions, and making dentures. But they also deal with challenges unique to the prison environment like security protocols, limited supplies, and training dental assistants.

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How much education do you need to become a prison dentist?

You need a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree from an accredited dental program. After dental school, no further education is required specifically for prison dentistry. Some prisons provide on the job orientation.

What is the work environment like for prison dentists?

Prison dental offices have strict security measures like metal detectors and guards present. Dentists contend with limited equipment, dental assistants with minimal training, long inmate wait times, communicable diseases, and potential behavioral issues.

Do you need a special license to work as a prison dentist?

In most cases, you need the same state license as a general dentist. Some states may require additional clearances or credentials to work in the prison system. Most employers provide training on unique policies and protocols for providing dental care to inmates.

How much do prison dentists typically earn?

The average salary for a prison dentist ranges from $120,000 – $180,000 annually. Exact compensation depends on location, experience level, and employer. Prison dentists make considerably less than the $175,840 average salary for dentists overall.


In summary, providing dental care to incarcerated populations comes with unique challenges. Prison dentists earn lower salaries compared to private practice, contend with limited resources and supplies, high security restrictions, training unprepared assistants, long inmate wait times, a heightened risk of communicable disease, and potential behavioral issues.

However, despite the difficulties, prison dentistry provides an opportunity to increase access to care for an underserved population with high rates of dental disease. With strong communication skills and a flexible mindset, dentists can find personal and professional rewards improving oral health behind bars. The job outlook remains competitive for prison dentists focused on public health and serving vulnerable incarcerated patients.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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