Dental practitioners improve the lives of their patients through better dental hygiene and healthier bodies. With strong career growth projections for dentists, dental hygienists and dental laboratory technicians according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – now is an excellent time to consider joining this profession!
General dentists provide basic care, including professional teeth cleanings and some surgical procedures, while specialists treat more complicated conditions affecting the face, mouth and jaw.
Dentists specialize in diagnosing, treating and preventing oral health conditions and injuries. They perform teeth cleanings, extract infected tissue removal surgeries and offer education on preventative dental care practices to patients at home.
Most dentists work as general practitioners and many own their own practices, while some specialize in any of nine areas of dentistry; according to BLS research, orthodontists and oral and maxillofacial surgeons are among those earning some of the highest wages for this occupation.
To become a dentist, students must attend both college and dental school. Those interested in orthodontics must also complete an orthodontia residency program similar to medical specialty residencies that takes two or three years after dental school graduation. It may be worthwhile joining pre-dental clubs while in college as an excellent way of networking with upper class dental students as well as learning about the application process for dental school admissions.
An endodontist provides treatment for tooth pain and issues relating to the soft tissues inside a tooth called pulp, including blood vessels, nerves and fibrous tissue which may not be visible when you chew your food.
An endodontist can repair cracked and fractured teeth by performing root canal treatments or other procedures to relieve severe dental pain, potentially saving natural teeth from having to be extracted in favor of bridgework or dentures.
Most dentists receive endodontic training during dental school; while some perform root canal therapy themselves, more complex cases often require referral to an endodontist for diagnosis and treatment. Endodontic specialists possess advanced training in diagnosing and treating root canal failures which occur when cavities go untreated or original filling fails to prevent infections.
As part of your preparation for a career in dentistry, working or volunteering in health care settings will allow you to gain exposure and understand how oral health services are provided. Joining a pre-dental club or working with upper class dental students can also provide valuable networking and learning opportunities from those already active in this industry.
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon
An ordinary dentist may provide basic restorations, fill cavities and pull teeth as well as assess your risk for gum disease and tooth decay; an oral and maxillofacial surgeon provides more advanced dental solutions. They typically complete six years in hospital-based surgical residency programs and are board-certified both in dentistry and medicine.
Their expertise includes reshaping and repairing jaw bones, performing bone grafts and treating congenital abnormalities such as cleft lip and palate. Additionally, they treat temporomandibular joint disorders, impacted or cystic teeth, salivary gland diseases, facial trauma as well as cancers of the mouth, face and neck.
These surgeons typically boast advanced training, often specialising in facial reconstructive, head and neck cancer reconstruction, microvascular, craniofacial or cosmetic facial surgery. Patients typically visit these experts upon being referred by their dentist or physician and often work alongside general dentists in providing comprehensive care as well as other health professionals such as otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat specialists), neurologists or plastic surgeons to deliver this comprehensive service.
Dental hygienists typically work in dentist offices and are responsible for providing therapeutic, administrative, research and clinical dental hygiene services to their clients. They emphasize preventive care while providing education on oral health maintenance to keep oral hygiene at an optimum state.
They clean patients’ teeth and screen for oral issues such as gum disease. In preparation for their visit with the dentist, they review findings. Finally, they teach patients proper brushing and flossing techniques as well as any recommended treatments.
Hygienists may take dental x-rays and perform other services, including scaling (removing tartar buildup), polishing (correcting minor surface defects), and taking impressions to create models for future dental devices, like braces or dentures.
Hygienists typically complete either an associate degree program or bachelor’s in dental hygiene. Some programs offer bachelor’s degrees within four years, while other “degree completion” options provide students with all of the classroom coursework and clinical practice of an associate’s program without needing to spend an additional year obtaining hands-on experience.