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Anyone interested in a career in dentistry has a variety of options. Dental professionals are in demand, and positions are widely available. Consider pursuing a career as a dental assistant, dental hygienist, or dental laboratory technician, all positions that work together to form a comprehensive dental team. If you have an interest in teeth and dentistry, the possibilities are extensive within the dental field.
Dental assistants work with dental practitioners, providing direct care to patients. Dental assistants perform tasks such as sterilizing equipment, preparing X-rays, and making impressions of teeth. Dental assistants also assist with patient procedures. With experience, dental assistants can advance to assist with fluoride and sealant applications and topical anesthetic. In some offices, dental assistants help with general office tasks as well.
The educational requirements for becoming a dental assistant vary by state. Students in some places may need to graduate from an accredited dental program and then pass a state examination, but other states don’t have these requirements. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that the dental assistant career will grow by 19 percent between 2016 and 2026.
A dental hygienist generally has more responsibility than a dental assistant, performing teeth cleanings and examinations to discover signs of oral diseases such as gingivitis and cancer. Dental hygienists also work under the supervision of dentists to provide preventative dental care, educating patients to help them improve their oral health.
Someone wishing to become a dental hygienist will need to complete an associate degree program in dental hygiene. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the career opportunities for dental hygienists to expand by 20 percent between 2016 and 2026. State requirements for becoming a dental hygienist vary, but every state requires licensing.
Dental Laboratory Technician
Dental laboratory technicians are charged with the production of dental prosthetics. Dental prosthetics include bridges, crowns, and dentures. Within the field of dental prosthetics, a variety of specializations exist, including ceramics and orthodontic appliances.
Anyone wishing to become a dental laboratory technician will need to complete high school and a specialized post-secondary dental laboratory technology program at a community or technical college. A post-secondary certificate may be sufficient, or a student might need to earn an associate degree. Skills required may include the ability to work with materials such as ceramics and wax, knowledge of how to create bridges and crowns, and a good eye for detail, including differences in color.
General Dentist (DDS)
A general dentist is a doctoral position that involves providing dental services for patients. Dentists assist with preventing oral diseases, stopping their progression, and performing examinations. Dentists also diagnose issues and treat patients with advanced procedures such as filling cavities, providing a root canal, fitting dentures, and doing bridgework.
A general dentist must have a license in the state in which work is performed. Each state has individual licensing requirements, but generally, dentist candidates must graduate from an accredited dental school. Then, graduates must pass written and practical exams.
Orthodontists are dental professionals who specialize in correcting teeth positioning and jaw alignment. Orthodontists use many methods and tools to straighten and realign teeth. Generally, teeth are easiest to align when patients are younger, but adult patients can also be treated. Orthodontists may practice in a dental office, but some also provide care in a hospital setting, treating patients experiencing traumatic jaw injuries.
Becoming an orthodontist generally involves completing an education program to become a dentist. Then, a graduate can continue with specialized postdoctoral training in orthodontics.
A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in preventing, diagnosing, and treating periodontal diseases. Periodontal diseases are infections of the structures surrounding the teeth, such as the gums, periodontal ligaments, and alveolar bone. Gingivitis is the earliest stage of periodontal disease and attacks the gums. As the disease advances, the other structures around the teeth can be affected, too.
After completing dental school and taking the licensing exam, a student can continue education to become a periodontist. Periodontists must complete additional training beyond standard dental school to enable them to care for all of the structures around the teeth.
- Dentistry Career Description (PDF)
- Why Choose a Career in Dental Medicine?
- Pros and Cons of Being a Dental Assistant
- Interested in Becoming a Dental Specialist?
- What it Means to Be a Dental Student
- What a Career in Dentistry Demands (PDF)
- Pros and Cons of Being a Dental Hygienist
- Five Facts About Dental Assistants
- What’s it Like to Be a Dental Assistant?
- Five Things to Know Before Becoming a Dental Assistant