Career Paths in the Dental Profession


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 theirpractices to one of the eight dental specialties. A dental education usually requires a minimum of three years of college with a strong science emphasis, followed by three to four years of dental school. Dental specialties require a minimum of two years of additional advance schooling. After completing dental 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

A dental hygienist, under the supervision of a dentist, screens patients, examines the mouth and cleans teeth by removing calculus and plaque (hard and soft deposits) from the teeth. They teach patients how to practice good oral hygiene and counsel patients regarding good nutrition and its impact on oral health. Hygienists work in dental offices of general dentists and specialists, public health agencies, hospitals, community health clinics, public school systems, dental schools and dental hygiene education programs, and dental equipment and product sales and research.  A dental hygiene education usually is a two year program with graduates receiving associate degrees. High school classes in mathematics, chemistry, biology, and English are often recommended. There are approximately 250 ADA accredited dental hygiene education programs in community colleges, technical colleges, dental schools and universities in the U.S. Flexible work schedules are often available in this high demand field, and compensation depends on responsibilities, geographic location and other factors.

Dental Assistant

Dental assistants assist the dentist with treatment procedures working with dental instruments and materials. They help patients feel comfortable before, during and after treatment. Dental assistants take and process x-rays, prepares and sterilizes instruments and equipment. They communicate with patients, other health professionals, dental suppliers, business contacts and insurers, andperform a variety of office management tasks. Assistants work in dental offices of general dentists and dental specialists, dental schools, private and government hospitals and clinics, and state and local public health departments. A dental assistant college-level education is encouraged, but careers can begin without college-level courses through on-the -job-training in a dental office or high school work-study program. There are approximately 250 ADA accredited dental assisting education programs in community and technical colleges in the U.S., a minimum of one academic year in length.

Laboratory Technician

Dental laboratory technicians create replacements for natural teeth and fabricate devices used in specialty dental treatment. The ability to use small instruments, attention to detail and artistic ability are valuable assets in this profession. Lab technicians work in commercial dental laboratories, private dental offices, public institutions, and by dental product manufacturers. A lab technician 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.

Office Manager (Administrative)

The administrative position is often the publics 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. Education for those employed as administrators 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.

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