There are a number of career options under the umbrella of becoming a dental professional and they all require some degree of either formal school or on the job training. Here's how to get started:
- Among the most popular dental professional positions is as a dental assistant. This individual works directly with the dentist in equipment set-up and preparing the patient for procedures, helping with a variety of patient procedures working together with the dentist and keeping accurate patient records. Dental assistants can learn on the job, but better job prospects and salaries exist for those who take one-year certificate programs from a qualified dental school or a two year Associate of Applied Science of Dental Assisting degree offered by community colleges.
- Another dental professional opportunity in a dentistry practice is the dental hygienist, a job that requires formal study at an accredited dental hygiene program and the successful application for a state license following clinical and written exams. Dental hygienists perform a variety of procedures on patients including teeth cleaning, taking x-rays and handling the application of fluoride or sealants on teeth. Dental hygienists also educate patients on proper oral hygiene techniques such as brushing or flossing to prevent future decay. Some dental hygienists pursue a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene. In addition to working at a private practice, dental hygienists also find employment in private and public school districts.
- For those attracted to the dental profession who prefer to work behind the scenes rather than dealing directly with patients, the job of dental laboratory technician is very attractive. A dental laboratory technician deals with the creation of the crowns, dentures, bridges and other prosthetics that help to repair or replace patients' decayed teeth. Like the dental assistant position, the dental laboratory technician often learns his trade right on the job. But more often than not a dental laboratory technician completes a formal training program at an accredited school to obtain an Associate of Applied Science in Dental Technology degree. Many dental technicians choose to further their study and meet the requirements to become a Certified Dental Technician (CDT) in order to manage or supervise dental laboratories or open their own facility to specialize in dental prosthetics.
- A Dental Office Manager is another key dental professional position responsible for handling the day to day administrative operation of a dental practice. Candidates study to receive a Certificate of Dental Administration, an Associate of Science in Office Management Degree, or learn on the job at a private dental practice.
Average annual salaries for dental professionals range from $25,000 to $30,000 for dental assistants and office managers to $38,000 for dental technicians and more than $50,000 for dental hygienists with a degree.