Dental Careers

Career Paths in the Dental Profession

Dentist

A dentist is a licensed professional who diagnoses and treats disease, injuries, and malformations of the teeth, jaws and mouth. Most dentists practice general dentistry, giving them the capability of providing comprehensive care to a wide variety of patients. Some dentists chose to limit their practices to one of eight dental specialties. The advantages of a dental career include prestige, flexible hours, and creativity. A dental education usually requires a minimum of three years of college with a strong science emphasis (however, a college degree is recommended), followed by three to four years of dental school. Dental specialties require a minimum of two years of additional advanced schooling. After completing school, an examination must be passed before a license is granted to practice dentistry. Dentists are among the most highly compensated and respected professionals in the U.S.

Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists use their knowledge and skill to help prevent oral disease, clean teeth, and instruct patients in all facets of oral hygiene. Although most dental hygienists are employed in dental practices, many are also employed by public institutions, and as instructors in dental assisting and dental hygiene programs. As the interest in preventative dentistry increases, the demand for dental hygienists will remain one of the highest in the health care profession. - dental hygienists use their knowledge and skill to help prevent oral disease, clean teeth, and instruct patients in all facets of oral hygiene. Although most dental hygienists are employed in dental practices, many are also employed by public institutions, and as instructors in dental assisting and dental hygiene programs. As the interest in preventative dentistry increases, the demand for dental hygienists will remain one of the highest in the health care profession. An associate degree or certificate in dental hygiene can be earned through a two year program at a community college, or a bachelor’s degree may be granted from a 4-year university program. Most two year programs require additional college course work in natural and social sciences. After graduation, a candidate must pass a state licensure examination in order to obtain a license to practice dental hygiene. The benefits of a career in dental hygiene include flexible hours, respect, and salaries that are higher than many others in health care fields requiring similar education.

Dental Assistant

Dental assistants enjoy great variety in their work. Their responsibilities include preparing patients for dental treatment and providing instruction in oral hygiene. Dental assists also prepare materials to be used in dental procedures, assist the dentist at chairside, take and process x-rays, and perform other dental treatment procedures within the scope of their license. Many also utilize their training in dental business management. The typical work week is about 35 hours per week, although many dental assistants choose to work fewer hours. Dental assistants can become licensed as Registered Dental Assistants or Registered Dental Assistants in Extended Functions. As of 1/1/2007 dental assistants will become registered in specialty categories. - Dental assistants enjoy great variety in their work. Their responsibilities include preparing patients for dental treatment and providing instruction in oral hygiene. Dental assists also prepare materials to be used in dental procedures, assist the dentist at chairside, take and process x-rays, and perform other dental treatment procedures within the scope of their license. Many also utilize their training in dental business management. The typical work week is about 35 hours per week, although many dental assistants choose to work fewer hours. Dental assistants can become licensed as Registered Dental Assistants or Registered Dental Assistants in Extended Functions. As of 1/1/2007 dental assistants will become registered in specialty categories. Dental assistants receive training through vocational programs or at community colleges. Registered Dental Assistants and Registered Dental Assistants in Extended Functions have additional education, training, and work experience and become licensed by passing an examination. Salaries are comparable to other health care professionals with similar training and experience. Competent dental assistants will continue to be in demand.

Dental Laboratory Technician

Dental laboratory technicians create replacements for natural teeth and fabricate devices used in specialty dental treatment. The ability to use small hand instruments, attention to detail, and artistic ability are valuable assets in this profession. Most dental laboratory technicians work in commercial dental laboratories which employ between 3-5 technicians. Other technicians may be employed in private dental offices, public institutions, and by dental product manufacturers. As the population ages and becomes more aware of cosmetic and preventative dentistry, the need for dental technicians is expected to increase. - Dental laboratory technicians create replacements for natural teeth and fabricate devices used in specialty dental treatment. The ability to use small hand instruments, attention to detail, and artistic ability are valuable assets in this profession. Most dental laboratory technicians work in commercial dental laboratories which employ between 3-5 technicians. Other technicians may be employed in private dental offices, public institutions, and by dental product manufacturers. As the population ages and becomes more aware of cosmetic and preventative dentistry, the need for dental technicians is expected to increase. Dental laboratory technicians can begin their careers without a college degree; however, formal college-level education is strongly encouraged. There are approximately 40 certified dental laboratory technician schools in the U.S., two of which are in California. The salary of a dental technician varies, depending upon the responsibilities associated with the specific position, formal training, and geographic location of employment.

Dental Practice Administrator

Staff members employed in administrative positions often create the public’s first impression of the dental practice. Responsibilities may include telephone communication, appointment scheduling, insurance claims management, financial arrangements and collections, treatment plan presentations, personnel management, and practice marketing. Larger practices often have several administrators who specialize in these various duties. Dedication to customer service is essential for success in modern dental practice administration. - Staff members employed in administrative positions often create the public’s first impression of the dental practice. Responsibilities may include telephone communication, appointment scheduling, insurance claims management, financial arrangements and collections, treatment plan presentations, personnel management, and practice marketing. Larger practices often have several administrators who specialize in these various duties. Dedication to customer service is essential for success in modern dental practice administration. Education for those employed in dental practice administrations ranges from on-the-job training to master’s degrees, depending on employment responsibilities. Many administrators also find that clinical dental experience is helpful in their positions. Those interested in this field should be familiar with basic dental procedures and terminology, communication skills, computer utilization, and general business knowledge.

For more information about dental careers and education programs, visit the
California Dental Association’s website at
www.cda.org
and click on "consumer information" then "education" 

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