Have you ever
wondered what it would be like to work in the dental profession? Each
dental team member has a unique job that requires a specific skill set;
and each is crucial to a successful practice and high-quality patient
care. If you've ever thought about a career in dentistry, the Academy of
General Dentistry would like to offer you a glimpse into the dental
What's it like to be
General dentists make up the majority of the 140,000 dentists practicing
in the United States. Most of them own their own practice. General
practitioners care for their patients' overall oral health, which the
Surgeon General recently stated is crucial to a person's total health.
General practitioners also coordinate care with dentists in other
specialties when a patient needs a specialized procedure. (We'll talk
about other dental specialties below.)
become partners or associates with other dentists in a group practice.
But most general practitioners own their practice, so they face the
demands-and reap the rewards-of running a small business as well as
being a doctor. In return, dentists are their own bosses, and they set
their own hours. Dentists enjoy prestige in their community and strong
earning potential. Other dentists work in government health services,
research programs, higher education, corporations and even the military.
To become a
dentist, you need a bachelor's degree with a strong science foundation:
biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics are crucial. Admission to
dental school, which lasts four years, requires high grades in college
and a competitive score on the Dental Admission Test. After graduating
from dental school, you'll have to take licensure examinations required
by the state in which you wish to practice. Specialization requires
another two years of school or a clinical residency program.
All that education
is a good investment. As start-up businesses most likely to succeed,
dental practices rank third. And the demand for dental care is growing
as public awareness of the importance of maintaining good oral health
fields include the following:
the primary dental care provider for all patients, are responsible for
the diagnosis, treatment, management and overall coordination of
services related to patients' oral health needs.
improve patients' smiles by straightening crooked teeth and misaligned
jaws with the use of braces and other appliances.
maxillofacial surgeons care for patients who experience problems with
jaws and facial structures. This includes the extraction of teeth,
removing tumors and cysts, treating facial injuries and trauma,
correcting improper jaw alignment and reconstructive treatment.
care for patients' gums and other tissues that support the teeth.
dentists treat the overall oral health needs of children.
examine and diagnose tumors and lesions of the mouth.
treat inner tooth structures and perform root canals.
dentists work mostly with government agencies to address the complex
issues of treating and educating groups that do not enjoy regular
access to a dentist, such as people with special needs, the indigent
and rural Americans.
specialize in the restoration and replacement of teeth.
maxillofacial radiologists produce and interpret images and data to
diagnose and manage diseases, disorders and conditions though the
taking of traditional x-rays, digital radiography, CT scans (computed
tomagraphy), MRIs (Magnetic resonance imaging), etc.
What's it like to be
Dental hygienists help prevent tooth decay and maintain healthy gums by
cleaning teeth to remove tartar, stains and plaque. Hygienists perform
screenings to review a patient's health history and chart the condition
of the patient's teeth; apply preventive materials such as fluoride; and
teach proper brushing and flossing techniques.
complete either a two-year certification program or a four-year college
program that offers a bachelor's degree. Good grades in high school are
required to get into a hygiene program. Hygienists must pass an exam to
be licensed in the state in which they wish to practice.
Hygienists work in
a wide variety of settings including private dental practices, schools,
community clinics, research teams and dental corporations. Full- and
part-time employment options are available, as well as evening and
weekend hours, enabling dental hygienists to balance their career and
lifestyle needs. For more information on dental hygiene, check out the
American Dental Hygienists' Association Web site at www.adha.org.
What's it like to be
a dental assistant?
Dental assistants keep the dental practice running smoothly. A few of
the assistant's tasks include greeting patients and preparing them for
dental procedures, assisting the dentist during procedures and sometimes
handling billing and insurance.
colleges and vocational schools offer dental assistant programs; but
on-the-job training is also an option. Dentists are always looking for
qualified, motivated assistants. Dental assistants need good
communication and organizational skills, attention to detail and the
ability to juggle multiple tasks. In return, they can enjoy good pay and
The best way
to become a dental assistant is to receive formal education. Studying in
a Commission on Dental Accreditation accredited program provides
education that is based on the latest procedures and techniques. There
are 254 accredited dental assisting programs in the United States.
Dental assistants receive certification by passing an exam given by the
Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), Certified Dental Assistant
program. For more information, check out the Web sites for DANB,
www.danb.org, or the American Dental
What's it like to be
a dental technician?
Dental technicians work in labs where they make and repair dental
appliances, including dentures, inlays, bridges, crowns and braces.
Following a dentist's prescription technicians create appliances using
wax, plasters, plastic, ceramics and metals from impressions taken of a
patient's mouth or teeth.
learn their craft on the job, while others attend a formal training
program that leads to an associate's degree in applied science. A few
programs also offer a four-year bachelor's program in dental technology.
Dental technicians may become certified by passing an examination
evaluating their skills and knowledge.
The work is
extremely delicate and time consuming. Salaried technicians usually work
40 hours a week, but self-employed technicians frequently work longer
hours. Demand for dental technicians is expected to rise as interest in
cosmetic dentistry increases and more Americans need crown-and-bridge
appliances as they age. For more information on lab technicians, visit
the National Association of Dental Laboratories Web site at
information on dental careers, check out the U.S. Department of Labor's
Occupational Outlook Handbook online at