Dentist Career Overview and Description
A dentist’s job includes tasks such as filling cavities, examining X-rays, applying protective sealant on teeth, pulling teeth, removing decay, and taking measurements and making models for dentures. They often treat gum disease by performing surgery on patients. Dentists are authorized to write prescriptions and perform some forms of anesthesiology. They educate patients on caring for teeth and gums by encouraging the use of fluorides, flossing, brushing, and abiding by a healthy diet.
For protection from disease, dentists wear safety glasses, face masks, and gloves. They operate and utilize equipment such as brushes, scalpels, probes, mouth mirrors, and forceps.
Because dentists practicing privately are responsible for all office duties, they often hire receptionists, dental assistants, hygienists, and laboratory technicians.
Most dentists are general practitioners, handling a variety of dental needs. Other dentists practice in any of nine specialty areas. Orthodontists, the largest group of specialists, straighten teeth by applying pressure to the teeth with braces or retainers. The next largest group, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, operates on the mouth and jaws. The remainder may specialize as pediatric dentists (focusing on dentistry for children); periodontists (treating gums and bone supporting the teeth); prosthodontists (replacing missing teeth with permanent fixtures, such as crowns and bridges, or removable fixtures, such as dentures); endodontists (performing root canal therapy); public-health dentists (promoting good dental health and preventing dental diseases within the community); oral pathologists (studying oral diseases); or oral and maxillofacial radiologists (diagnosing diseases in the head and neck through the use of imaging technologies).
While the majority of dentists are general practitioners, others specialize in various areas. Endodontists give root canal therapy. Periodontists specialize in gums and bones holding the teeth. Orthodontists use tools such as braces and retainers to straighten teeth. Oral and maxillofacial radiologists use technology to produce images for diagnosis of diseases in the neck and head. Public Health dentists work in the community to educate citizens about disease prevention and good dental health. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons perform operations on the jaw and mouth. Prosthodontists create teeth replacements including dentures, bridges, and crowns. Oral pathologists research diseases of the mouth. Pediatric dentists provide dental treatment for children.
Dentist Training and Job Qualifications
To practice dentistry in the U.S., a license must be obtained. Graduation from a dental school accredited by the ADA and passing practical and written exams are required to apply for a license.
To be admitted to a dental school, the minimum of a bachelor’s degree is usually required. There are a few exceptions where only the completion of two years of pre-dental education is necessary. Many applicants to dental schools major in a science-based field such as chemistry or biology; however, others choose to major in different subjects of study such as linguistics or English. These students must still take a number of science based classes in order to apply to dental school. A few applicants are admitted to dental school after only completing a few years of their degree and finish their bachelor’s degree at dental school.
Admission to dental school is highly competitive. Schools look at applicants’ interviews and recommendations, scores earned on the Dental Admissions Test (DAT), and grade point averages.
During the first two years of dental school, students take courses in the classroom and laboratory in areas such as biochemistry, anatomy, laboratory techniques, physiology, microbiology, and clinical sciences. The final two years of dental school are typically spent working with patients in dental clinics under the direction of other dentists.
Graduates from dental school earn the degree, Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or a comparable degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS).
Characteristics needed to become a dentist include scientific ability, good spatial judgment, visual memory, manual dexterity, and strong diagnostic skills. To begin a dental practice, excellent communication skills, a superior sense of business, and self-discipline are important qualities to possess.
After graduating from dental school, new dentists open their own practice, buy an existing practice, work for another dentist to gain additional experience, or continue going to school to specialize in a specific area.
Dentist Job and Employment Opportunities
The employment outlook for dentists is growing through 2012 due to the high number of retiring dentists. This will allow good opportunities for new dentists to begin their own practices or to buy existing practices.
The need for dental care continues to increase each year. Because dental care has improved, older Americans are keeping their teeth versus getting dentures. These people will continue to need dental care. Also, with the baby-boomers entering middle age, they will need increasing amounts of dental work to maintain their teeth. Preventative care is still needed by the younger generations. The demand for dental services is projected to be higher than the employment of dentists due to the help of dental assistants and hygienists for basic dental care.
Dental care will focus more on prevention, including teaching people how to take better care of their teeth. Dentists will increasingly provide care that is aimed at preventing the loss of teeth—rather than simply providing treatments, such as fillings. Improvements in dental technology also will allow dentists to offer more effective and less painful treatment to their patients.
Today’s dentists are emphasizing preventative care. Their goal is to help people retain their teeth by helping them learn how to care for their gums and teeth. As technology continues to advance, dentists are providing better and less painful treatments.
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