Inside each dental office, there are a variety of positions representing a wide range of education, experience and training. As the school year begins you may find yourself considering a dental career.
Have you ever thought about becoming a dentist? This is a career within the grasp of many, college-bound, high school students and science oriented college students. Your undergraduate college education should be heavily weighted in the sciences.
The requirements for other courses differ and are often flexible. No major courses of study are preferred, so choose a course of study that you enjoy and feel that you will excel in. Applicants for dental school take the Dental Admissions Test in their junior or senior year of college. Dental schools place varying importance on extracurricular activities and interviews. Some schools do not interview applicants while others filter applicants with interview questions that test their maturity and character. Dental school is a four-year, expensive journey.
There are many ways that dentists practice. Some work in hospitals and public health, specialize in different aspects of dentistry (such as oral surgery and pediatric dentistry) or they may work for universities, insurance companies or manufacturers. Most find their work challenging and enjoyable. Speak with your high school and college advisors to find out more.
Most people have their teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist at least twice a year. Hygienists’ high salaries reflect their level of training and high demand for their profession. They have completed at least two years of college, received their hygiene certificate, and passed national and regional board exams. Hygienists do more than clean teeth. They are responsible for screening for decay, oral cancer and other systemic problems. Hygienists provide treatment for gum disease; prevent decay with a combination of fluoride treatments, pit and fissure sealants, brushing and flossing instruction and nutrition counseling. In many cases, hygienists may work without a dentist in the same building at the time of treatment.
Dental hygiene schools such as Forsythe of Boston, Ma. and Middlesex Community College of Burlington, Ma. choose from among the top high school graduates. Adults and high school students who have not taken the prerequisite courses may take these courses in college.
Most dental assistants work in dental offices ensuring that appointments are smooth and efficient. Dental assistants work with the dentist or alone to provide treatment, take radiographs (x-rays), impressions, and provide instruction for postoperative care and oral hygiene. Training can be obtained in many settings ranging from college level programs such as the one at Middlesex and vocational high school programs to on the job training in a dental office.
Dental assistants can obtain national certification by taking the Dental Assisting National Board. To qualify they must complete an accredited program or have two years of full time experience. Accredited programs usually take one to two years to complete. The Massachusetts Dental Society even provides an online dental assisting program; for information call (888) 258-4379. Dental assistants earn wages similar to that of a licensed practical nurse, medical assistant or other similarly trained professions.
Dental receptionists make appointments, bill insurance companies and patients, answer the phones, and often must explain treatment options to patients. Some are trained dental assistants who decide that they prefer working behind the desk, others have no formal training and learn on the job. It takes months to master the nuances of dental insurance billing and dental office scheduling. The pay scale for dental receptionists varies widely, but well-trained receptionists are hard to find. They can earn as much as a dental assistant with similar experience.
Dental lab technicians create artful appliances to restore and replace teeth. This type of work requires a high level of skill and training and attention to minute detail. Training may be obtained in a vocational high school, college, or on the job.
As Lynn Jenkins, president of H & O Dental Laboratory in Manchester, NH, said, “We take pride in providing our employees on-the-job training to become dental laboratory technicians. Along with the on-the-job training we provide them with opportunities to become Certified Dental Technicians with the National Board of Certification while paying for the cost for them to be tested and recertified from year to year.” Salaries of dental lab technicians vary widely depending on the type of work that they do, level of training and experience.
For information on schools and societies, contact the Massachusetts Dental Society at (800) 342-8747, or check out their web site: www.massdental.org, under the heading “public” click on “careers in dentistry.”