Modern dental work requires the combined efforts of hygienists, doctors, assistants and oral surgery specialists. Continue reading to learn more about dental careers, academic requirements and the job outlook for this industry.
Is Dentistry for Me?
Dentistry involves surgical and non-invasive procedures that correct afflictions of the teeth and gums. Dental assistants and hygienists take x-rays, clean patients' teeth, prepare examination rooms and process records. Dentists perform many of the more complex procedures needed to resolve dental health issues. Dental professionals should have excellent manual dexterity, good memories, the ability to judge color and spaces between teeth and the capacity to work well with others.
Everyone entering the dental field learns the basics of human dentition. This includes dental ethics, tooth arrangement, common afflictions and maxillofacial anatomy. In the undergraduate and master's-level dental hygiene degree programs, participants explore theories of dental hygiene, learn to use dental tools and take classes in terminology. Bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs include science courses, and graduate programs require that applicants have earned credits in chemistry, biology and physics.
Salaries and Employment Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2012, general dentists made a median salary of $145,240, prosthodontists made $169,130, and other specialist dentists made $154,990 (www.bls.gov). Dental hygienists made a median annual salary of $70,210, and dental assistants earned the lowest wages, with a median salary of $34,500. The BLS projects that the employment demand for dentists will increase by 16% between 2012 and 2022, with an increase of 33% for dental hygienists and 25% for dental assistants.
How Can I Work in Dentistry?
According to the BLS, dental assistants don't need to complete formal college education, since on-the-job training is available. However, earning licensure is required, so completing a 1-year certificate program or an associate's degree program in dental assisting could be beneficial. The licensure exam includes many of the topics covered in those programs.
Certificate programs and associate's degree programs typically offer training for dental hygienists or assistants and focus on cleaning methods and patient education. Some universities offer pre-dentistry programs that allow students to complete entry requirements for a doctoral degree program in dental medicine.
Dental Hygiene Degrees
Individuals who earn a bachelor's or a master's degree in dental hygiene can also become dental hygienists. However, the BLS adds that those graduates can go into research, teach programs in dental hygiene or work in public health. Many master's degree programs in dental hygiene require applicants to have experience working in dental hygiene and a valid license, although no specific undergraduate requirements exist. Master's-level public health programs with an emphasis in dentistry prepare graduates to work with the community and dental professionals, helping promote good dental practices and inform people about the importance of dentistry.
Aspiring dentists must complete a bachelor's degree followed by a doctorate in dental science, dental surgery or dental medicine for a total of eight years of study. Undergraduate students who are interested in becoming dentists typically pursue a degree program in biology, chemistry or physics and work with their student advisor to complete the prerequisites for a doctoral degree program. The last two years of a doctorate program in dentistry require students to treat patients under the supervision of a licensed dentist.
Dentists must earn licensure through their state before they can practice. Nine specialties are available, including orthodontics, endodontics and oral pathology, all of which have separate licensure exams and additional academic requirements.
Dental hygienists must earn an associate's or a bachelor's degree and pass a licensure exam that has both written and clinical components.