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Career Opportunities for Dental Professionals: 7 Pathways

There are numerous career opportunities for dental professionals out there. Typically, there are three directions people in this medical field can focus their efforts on: one can become a dentist, a specialized nurse, or a member of the dental support team. In this blog, we will be talking about the different types of careers in the dental field.

1. Dental Office Manager or Dental Receptionist

A dental office manager is the hub of activity in the office. An office manager can be part of the dental clinical staff or, at a busy practice, run the office completely.

An office manager will greet the patients, make appointments, and conduct phone calls to remind patients of their upcoming visits. Billing and working with insurance companies could be a big part of the job as well. The day-to-day duties also include making things run smoothly in the clinical area.

2. Dental Assistant

A dental assistant can be one of the busiest employees in the office. Dental assistants are trained to perform many of the following tasks:

  • Showing patients to their exam rooms.
  • Preparing patients for procedures and/or surgeries.
  • Assisting with procedures such as fillings, crowns, and extractions.
  • Making dental impressions.
  • Sterilizing dental tools and equipment.
  • Post-procedure clean-up.
  • Taking initial dental x-rays.
  • Generally chairside assisting of dentists and hygienists.
  • Some office tasks.

Each dental office is different, so this could just be the beginning of a list of duties in this position.

A one- or two-year program at a vocational or community college will help receive the necessary training for this position. An externship may also be part of the dental assistant program you enroll in.

3. Orthodontic Assistant

Orthodontic assistants provide support to orthodontists helping them align their patient’s teeth. They also educate patients with braces, retainers, and other orthodontic devices about the peculiarities of dental care and hygiene.

Orthodontic assistants must be prepared to work with children since this is the part of the population that often requires orthodontic procedures and can make up a substantial part of the patient pool. Duties can include using various orthodontic appliances like bands and tooth separators, mixing and applying orthodontic cement to make molds of patients’ teeth, etc.

The degree and licensing requirements can be the same as for a dental assistant. Once again, clinical work experience will be needed in order to complete the training.

4. Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists are professionals who perform various procedures aimed at maintaining the health of patients’ teeth. This can include teeth cleaning (also referred to as scaling), polishing, applying fissure sealants and various treatments to keep tooth decay to a minimum. Some dental hygienists can also perform periodontal treatments like charting and debridement.

Aside from dental education, becoming a dental hygienist often requires registration with a local regulatory body. In the US, requirements vary by state. For instance, in California, an RDHAP license is required. In Connecticut, dental hygienists can work independently as long as they have at least two years of experience in dentistry. Colorado is so far the only state where dental hygienists can have independent practice and work without supervision from a dentist. To be eligible to receive a license, the expert must pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination.

5. Dental Laboratory Technician

A dental laboratory technician is a hands-on job of using molds or impressions of a patient’s teeth to create bridges, dentures, crowns, implants, and other necessary dental appliances.

This professional must understand that what they are creating will need to function for a patient as well as look natural in a patient’s mouth. They are also a part of a rapidly changing field of high-tech materials: ceramics, plastics, porcelains, metal alloys, and many more.

There are many accredited dental laboratory technology programs available for this profession. Some technicians are trained on the job at the dental office. There are also a variety of community or junior colleges that have formal training in this dental profession. The most advanced training available is through associate degree programs offered around the country.

6. Sedation Dental Nurse

Sedation is widely used in dental practice. It is in high demand for procedures that are likely to inflict substantial pain or mental distress on a patient. Examples include the removal of teeth, root canal procedures, and dental implantation. However, sedation can be used during any routine dental work upon a patient’s request.

There are four levels of sedation: minimal, moderate, deep, and general anesthesia. For most types of general dental work, the first two suffice. Additional training and personnel are needed to use deep and general anesthesia. We will focus on sedation dental nurses that assist clinicians with sedation administration and patient monitoring in minimal and moderate sedation cases.

For those who are interested in getting deep and systematic knowledge on sedation, online training options are available. Safe sedation training is a popular choice for sedation administrations at hospitals, clinics, dental offices, and other care areas.

Sedation dental nurses are in high demand — around 12% of adults in the US suffer from an extreme fear of dental treatment. This anxiety often delays the much-needed dental care and puts one at risk of developing more serious problems. Offering sedation during treatment will help patients with anxiety that need dental care. Sedation nurses often have training beyond their basic nursing credentials.

7. Dentist

There are many types of dentists: general dentists, orthodontists, endodontists, oral surgeons, pediatric dentists, etc. In many cases, professionals work as general dentists for a while before choosing to specialize further. General dentists are primary dental care providers. Typically, patients are advised to visit their dentist once every six months to spot any issues that might need treatment. Hence, the demand for this profession is very high.

General dentists diagnose, treat cavities and root canals, provide gum care, etc. They can refer patients to other dental experts if needed.

All dentists practicing in the US must have completed either DMD or DDS degree. Licenses are also required by various states. To acquire a license, dentists must pass a written and clinical examination.

What Career to Choose

There are many opportunities for career development within dentistry. We have listed the most common ones. Others include treatment coordinator, practice manager, sales or company representative, dental therapist, etc.

The path you choose will depend on your interests as well as the amount of time and resources you are ready to spend on career advancement.


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