Careers in Dentistry

Dentistry offers a variety of rewarding careers to people interested in the health care field. Dental professionals of all kinds are in high demand. Below are descriptions of many of the positions available in dentistry. For more information about dental careers and education programs, visit the California Dental Association’s website by clicking HERE.


A dentist is a licensed professional who diagnoses and treats disease, injuries, and malformations of the teeth, jaws, and mouth. Most dentists practice general dentistry, giving them the capability of providing comprehensive care to a wide variety of patients. Some dentists chose to limit their practices to one of nine dental specialties. The advantages of a dental career include prestige, flexible hours, and creativity. A dental education usually requires a minimum of three years of college with a strong science emphasis (however, a college degree is recommended), followed by three to four years of dental school. Dental specialties require a minimum of two years of additional advanced schooling. After completing school, an examination must be passed before a license is granted to practice dentistry. Dentists are among the most highly compensated and respected professionals in the United States.

The recognized dental specialties are:

  • DENTAL PUBLIC HEALTH – Coordinates and administers community-wide dental care programs, including public education on the prevention of dental disease.
  • ENDODONTICS – Deals with the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease and injuries of the internal soft tissue of the tooth (root canals). 
  • ORAL AND MAXILLOFACIAL PATHOLOGY – Researches the causes, development, and effects of oral diseases.
  • ORAL AND MAXILLOFACIAL RADIOLOGY – Uses imaging and associated technology for diagnosis and management of a range of diseases affecting the mouth, jaw, and related area of the head and neck.
  • ORAL AND MAXILLOFACIAL SURGERY – Treats injuries and deformities, extracts teeth, and performs surgery of the mouth, jaw and face. 
  • ORTHODONTICS AND DENTOFACIAL ORTHOPEDICS – Prescribes and places corrective devices, such as braces, to align teeth and improve health and appearance.
  • PEDIATRIC DENTISTRY – Specializes in the dental health of children from birth through adolescence.
  • PERIODONTICS – Treats diseases of the gums.
  • PROSTHODONTICS – Designs and fits bridge-work and dentures.

Dental Hygienist (RDH, RDHEF)

Dental hygienists use their knowledge and skill to help prevent oral disease, clean teeth, and instruct patients in all facets of oral hygiene. Although most dental hygienists are employed in dental practices, many are also employed by public institutions, and as instructors in dental assisting and dental hygiene programs. As the interest in preventive dentistry increases, the demand for dental hygienists will remain one of the highest in the health care profession. An associate degree or certificate in dental hygiene can be earned through a two-year program at a community college, or a bachelor’s degree may be granted from a 4-year university program. Most two-year programs require additional college course work in natural and social sciences. After graduation, a candidate must pass a state licensure examination to obtain a license to practice dental hygiene. The benefits of a career in dental hygiene include flexible hours, respect, and salaries that are higher than many others in health care fields requiring similar education.

Dental Assistant (DA, RDA, RDAEF)

Dental assistants enjoy great variety in their work. Their responsibilities include preparing patients for dental treatment and providing instruction in oral hygiene. Dental assists also prepare materials to be used in dental procedures, assist the dentist at chairside, take and process X-rays, and perform other dental treatment procedures within the scope of their license. Many also utilize their training in dental business management. The typical work week is about 35 hours, although many dental assistants choose to work fewer hours. Dental assistants can become licensed as Registered Dental Assistants or Registered Dental Assistants in Extended Functions. As of Jan. 1, 2007, dental assistants will become registered in specialty categories. Dental assistants receive training through vocational programs or at community colleges. Registered Dental Assistants and Registered Dental Assistants in Extended Functions have additional education, training, and work experience and become licensed by passing an examination. Salaries are comparable to other health care professionals with similar training and experience. Competent dental assistants will continue to be in demand.

Laboratory Technician

Dental laboratory technicians create replacements for natural teeth and fabricate devices used in specialty dental treatment. The ability to use small hand instruments, attention to detail, and artistic ability are valuable assets in this profession. Most dental laboratory technicians work in commercial dental laboratories that employ from three to five technicians. Other technicians may be employed in private dental offices, public institutions, and by dental product manufacturers. As the population ages and becomes more aware of cosmetic and preventative dentistry, the need for dental technicians is expected to increase. Dental laboratory technicians can begin their careers without a college degree; however, formal college-level education is strongly encouraged. There are approximately 40 certified dental laboratory technician schools in the United States, two of which are in California. The salary of a dental technician varies, depending upon the responsibilities associated with the specific position, formal training, and geographic location of employment.

Dental Practice Administrator

Staff members employed in administrative positions often create the public’s first impression of the dental practice. Responsibilities may include telephone communication, appointment scheduling, insurance claims management, financial arrangements and collections, treatment plan presentations, personnel management, and practice marketing. Larger practices often have several administrators who specialize in these various duties. Dedication to customer service is essential for success in modern dental practice administration. Education for those employed in dental practice administration ranges from on-the-job training to master’s degrees, depending on employment responsibilities. Many administrators also find that clinical dental experience is helpful in their positions. Those interested in this field should be familiar with basic dental procedures and terminology, communication skills, computer utilization, and general business knowledge.


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