If you’ve always been interested in a career in the dental industry but you’re not sure you want to spend nearly a decade in (along with tens of thousands of dollars on) college and medical school, you may be wondering about your alternatives.
Fortunately, a number of dental careers with much shorter paths to entry exist, along with some apprenticeship arrangements that can allow you to learn exactly what you like (and dislike) about this field. Read on to learn more about the variety of dental careers available, as well as some of the steps you can take to get started in the dental industry.
What types of dental careers are available?
In addition to dentists and administrative staff, most dentist’s offices include at least one of the following:
- Dental hygienists
These professionals are responsible for ensuring the dental hygiene of their patients, which means they conduct basic dental cleanings, take X-rays, and apply treatments such as tooth sealers. Often, unless a patient needs a procedure like a filling or has other unique dental needs, an entire dental checkup will be performed by the dental hygienist rather than the dentist.
Dental hygienists are also trained to spot and recommend treatment on a variety of non-dental conditions, such as potentially cancerous moles on the face or neck or white spots inside your cheeks.
- Dental assistants
Dental assistants perform a similar role as dental hygienists, but they have fewer freedoms when it comes to patient care. In most cases, a dental assistant will, indeed, be assisting the dentist as he or she performs a dental procedure or conducts a more in-depth cleaning, rather than performing tasks independently.
- Dental laboratory technicians
Few dentist’s offices employ laboratory technicians, but many hospitals and research development facilities do. These technicians are responsible for more intensive cases; for example, they treat patients who need a full set of fitted dentures or who are considering dental implants as a way to restore the appearance or function of their teeth.
How can you get started in the dental industry?
Just about all dental careers require at least some college, so getting started on your two- or four-year degree (either at a college or university or at your local community college) is key.
You may also want to investigate your apprenticeship options. Often, job-shadowing (either through your school or on the side) with a practicing dentist can help you narrow down the careers in which you’re interested before you invest time and money into extra education you may not need.