Those who want careers in dentistry have four options from which to choose. You can be a dentist, a hygienist, an assistant, or a technician.

Educational and licensing requirements differ for each of these careers in dentistry, as do duties and salaries. Dentists diagnose and treat problems with their patients’ teeth and mouth tissue.

Those who want to become dentists must attend dental school, which is a four year endeavor. Most applicants have a bachelor’s degree, although a minimum of only two years of pre-dental education is required.

After graduating from school, one must be licensed by the state in which he or she wants to practice. A written exam and a practical exam are required.

The median annual salary for dentists was $ 142,090 and median hourly wages of $ 68.31 in 2009. Hygienists, generally working under the supervision of a dentist, provide patients with preventative oral health care.

To become a hygienist one must earn an associate degree from a hygiene school. State licensing, which is obtained after taking written and practical exams, is required of those who want to work as hygienists.

Hygienists earned a median annual salary of $ 67,340 and median hourly wages of $ 32.38 in 2009. Technicians manufacture prosthetics based on dentists’ specifications.

They are also called dental laboratory technicians. Many technicians receive on-the-job training although many employers prefer to hire job candidates who have received formal training through community colleges, vocational-technical schools and the U.S. Armed Forces.

Voluntary certification is offered by The National Board for Certification, an independent board established by the National Association of Dental Laboratories. Technicians earned a median annual salary of $ 34,820 and median hourly wages of $ 16.74 in 2009.

Dental assistants work alongside dentists, performing some patient care, but not the same tasks hygienists are licensed to perform. They also perform laboratory and office duties.

They usually receive their training on-the-job, although some attend dental assisting programs offered by community and junior colleges, trade schools, technical institutes or the Armed Forces. High school students interested in a future career as an assistant should take courses in biology, chemistry, health, and office practices.

Some states license or register dental assistants. People in this position earned a median salary of $ 33,230 and median hourly wages of $ 15.98 in 2009.

These individuals must be reliable, work well with others, and have good manual dexterity. In some states, assistants must be licensed or registered.

They may be required to pass a written or practical exam. Assistants who perform specialized duties, such as radiological procedures, may have to complete the Radiation Health and Safety examination offered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).

In a few states, they may also have to pass a state-approved course in radiology. Some become office managers, instructors, or oral health product sales representatives, but opportunities are limited for those without further education.

Some become dental hygienists after going back to school. On a typical day an assistant who delivers patient care will try make patients as comfortable as possible in the dental chair, prepare them for treatment, and obtain oral healthcare records.

They will hand instruments and materials to dentists, and keep patients’ mouths dry and clear by using suction or other devices. They sterilize and disinfect instruments and equipment, prepare tray setups for procedures, and instruct patients on postoperative and general oral health care.

Sometimes, they can prepare materials for making impressions and restorations, expose radiographs, and process x-ray film as directed by a dentist. They may also remove sutures, apply anesthetics to gums or cavity-preventive agents to teeth, remove excess cement used in the filling process, and place rubber dams on the teeth to isolate them for individual treatment.

On a typical day an assistant who performs laboratory duties will make casts of the teeth and mouth from impressions. They will also clean and polish removable appliances and make temporary crowns.

On a typical day an assistant who performs office duties will schedule and confirm appointments, receive patients, and keep treatment records. They also send bills and receive payments, and order supplies and materials.

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