Dental Health & Hygiene - A Guide

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Dental Health &
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Editor's Note

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Dear Reader,

The field of dental health and hygiene can be rewarding and challenging, and it offers income levels ranging from moderate to generous and beyond. As this large industry continues to expand, opportunities are created for many ambitious, new workers.

We realize there's a lot to know when it comes to sorting out all the facts of the dental health profession. That's why we at have gathered information on important aspects of the dental health and hygiene industry from various sources, and compiled this INSIDE guide. We invite you to visit our site and discover the extensive collection of�dental health and hygiene-related articles�we have amassed.

We hope these pages help you find your path.

Happy reading,
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Citlali Tolia
Lead Editor, INSIDE Guides

Giving You Unbiased Information Ad

Quick Facts

  • In 2008, about one-third of all dental assistants held part-time positions.
  • In most states, dentists are allowed to practice general and specialized dentistry.
  • Orthodontics is the largest of all dental specialties.
  • The vast majority of dentists have solo practices.
  • Many dental laboratory technicians receive formal training, while others learn their skills in the military or on the job.
  • Dental hygiene is one of the most rapidly expanding careers in the country.
  • As of 2008, there were 7,700 orthodontists practicing in the U.S.
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Should I Work in Dental Health?

Below is a checklist of qualities that are common to dental health professionals. If you check more than 12, this could be a great field for you!

Are you/ Do you…?
Check all that apply

Dental Health and Hygiene Job Options

Dental Laboratory Technician

Dental laboratory technicians work with dentists to create attractive dentures, veneers, orthodontic appliances, bridges and crowns for patients. Using digital impressions or molds taken by the dentist, the dental laboratory technician will use carvers, spatulas and other hand tools to build teeth from wax, stainless steel, porcelain and non-precious metal.

Young woman having a dental exam

Of course, employers prefer to hire applicants who have been formally trained, but it is common for dental laboratory technicians who have only high school diplomas to learn their skills on the job.

Dental Assistant

As a dental assistant, you may have front office, laboratory and chair-side responsibilities. Primarily, dental assistants make the dentist's job easier by seating patients in the dental chair, taking and processing x-rays and keeping patients' mouths dry while the dentist attends to them. You'll also sterilize instruments and schedule patients for treatment and, if you have laboratory duties, make tooth impressions and temporary crowns. While formal education for dental assistants isn't a strict requirement, you may increase your career prospects by obtaining such training through a community or junior college dental assisting program.

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Dentist and hygienist standing by chair

Dental Hygienist

If you decide to become a dental hygienist, your duties may vary according to the state you live in. Aside from removing plaque and stains from patients' teeth, you may screen patients for oral cancer and apply fluoride and sealants to the surfaces of teeth. In some states, with the proper licensing, you may administer local anesthesia and nitrous oxide gases under supervision. Other duties may include taking x-rays, vital signs and oral health histories, and educating patients on the importance of good oral health. All dental hygienists are required to undergo formal training in an accredited dental hygiene program.

Dentist and Orthodontist

Dentists are qualified to replace missing teeth, repair damaged teeth and perform surgery on the bones and gums of the mouth. Orthodontists are dentists who specialize in straightening crooked or misaligned teeth. To become a dentist, you must complete two years of pre-dental studies at a college or university, prior to entering an accredited, 4-year dental school. If you'd like to become an orthodontist, you should enroll in a 3-year master's-level orthodontics program after graduating from dental school.

Employment Projections for Dental Workers

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Employment Data by industry

Type of Industry Type of Dental Health Worker Number of Employees in 2010
Offices of Physicians Dental Hygienists 1,420
General Medical & Surgical Hospitals Orthodontists 70
Outpatient Care Centers General Dentists 1,020
Federal Executive Branch Dental Laboratory Technicians 560
Colleges and Universities Dental Assistants 2,470


Dental Health & Hygiene Specializations


Periodontic specialists treat gum disease and inflammation with procedures such as root surface debridement, which eliminates damaged tissues, and scaling and root planing, wherein he or she cleans infected root surfaces. If necessary, surgery is performed. Periodontists also replace and repair dental implants. In addition to dental school, you'll require three years of periodontology education to become a periodontist. Your courses will include biochemistry, head and neck anatomy, clinical pathology, hospital dentistry, periodontal therapy and physical diagnosis.


Endodontists work in group and private practice as well as in universities, and they often handle difficult cases. Treatment by a skilled endondontist helps ensure that patients don't require tooth extractions. Endodontists diagnose and treat mouth and facial pain, and they help preserve natural teeth by performing root canal surgeries. You'll need a minimum of two years in an advanced endodontic program to practice this specialty. An endodontics program of

study includes courses such as surgical endodontics, mineralised tissues, molecular biology in clinical dentistry, radiology, advanced treatment planning and a thesis investigation.

Oral & Maxillofacial Radiologist

Oral and maxillofacial radiologists use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), digital imaging and computed tomography to help diagnose diseases in the head and neck region. Should you decide to specialize in oral and maxillofacial radiology after completing dental school, you must participate in a residency program that has been approved by the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation. You may also opt to enroll

Female dentist examining an xray
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in one of five advanced, post-doctorate education programs in the U.S. and Canada that will prepare you not only to practice oral and maxillofacial radiology, but to teach in medical or dental schools and perform research in the field.


As a prosthodontist, you can restore patients' smiles by replacing missing teeth with caps, dentures or crowns, or improve the appearance of existing teeth through the use of veneers or whitening treatments. Prosthodontists are also

responsible for surgically inserting dental implants. As with all dental specialties, you must first graduate from a school of dentistry. Afterward, you can receive prosthodontics training in a 3-year graduate program that is recognized by the American Dental Association. Typically, prosthodontics specialty programs include courses such as surgical anatomy, research methodology, biostatistics, oral pathology, concepts of occlusion and clinical and advanced prosthodontics.

Licensing and Certifications

Certification for dental laboratory technicians is required in three states. Most states regulate dental assistants, and some require licensing. All U.S. dentists and hygienists require licenses, which are granted by the ADA's Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations. As a licensing candidate, you must satisfy educational requirements and pass requisite tests. Following are facts pertaining to certification and licensing for dental professionals:

  • Dental assistants in some states must receive passing scores on a state examination and satisfy continuing education requirements.
  • The National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology grants the Certified Dental Technician credential.
  • Licensure for dental hygienists is contingent upon passing the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination.
  • If you're becoming a dentist, you must pass the National Board Dental Examination.
  • As an orthodontist, you can obtain a Board Certification in Orthodontics through the National Board of Orthodontics, U.S.

Dental Health and Hygiene Degree Options

High School Diploma

High school diplomas are usually sufficient for dental laboratory technicians. They are often trained on the job. When earning your high school diploma, you should take relevant classes such as drafting, art, computers, metal shop and mathematics. If you'd like formal training, enroll in a dental laboratory technology program at a junior or community college.

Career Diploma or Certificate

Dental assistants, too, often learn their craft on the job, and as such have no strict educational requirements. You should take preparatory high school classes in health and biology. It is becoming increasingly common for dental assistants to receive training in junior colleges. A formal dental assisting certificate or diploma program lasts about one year, although some colleges offer 2-year associate's degrees in this field. Course offerings include dental sciences, oral anatomy and physiology and dental materials. Along with classroom instruction, you'll have

opportunities to gain clinical practice and laboratory experience.

Associate's Degree

A degree is required to become a dental hygienist. Most programs award associate's degrees, such as the Associate of Applied Art and Science Degree in Dental Hygiene. Classes include oral pathology, patient records and dental hygiene fundamentals. You'll need a background in microbiology, mathematics and chemistry. Once you graduate, you might become a researcher or administrator in settings such as nursing homes and oral research facilities.

Open mouth
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Bachelor's Degree

Dental schools usually require a 4-year bachelor's degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), your pre-dental undergraduate education should include several science classes. Major in chemistry or biology so that you're well prepared to pass the Dental Admission Test (DAT), which is required for dental school admission. As a biology major, you'll study courses such as genetics, biotechnology and evolution. Good grades will be essential, because dental schools have stringent admission standards.

Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) Degree

After graduating with a bachelor's degree, you may apply to one of the 57 schools of dentistry in the U.S. Program

curricula for both degrees are similar. Once admitted, you'll study topics such as epidemiology and prevention, anatomy, biochemistry and oral and systemic disease. It will take approximately four years to earn the DMD or DDS degree.

Master's Degree & Certificate in Orthodontics

With 30 hours of semester credits, you can earn a 3-year Master of Science in Orthodontics, which is necessary to receive the specialty Certificate in Orthodontics. The programs provide a combination of seminars, lectures and clinical practice. Your courses will include orthodontic laboratory, facial growth and diagnosis and treatment planning.

The Career Wizard

  • What are the job prospects for dental health and hygiene workers?
  • According to the BLS, most dental health workers will experience favorable job prospects through 2018. This is due in part to a growing demand for preventive dental care and an increase in the number of aging people who retain their natural teeth. In the case of dental laboratory technicians, job abundance will occur because few people seek these positions. This is attributed to low entry-level wages and a lack of awareness of the occupation.

  • What health or safety hazards do dental health workers face?
  • Dental health workers who encounter radiation from x-ray machines must wear protective gear such as lead aprons. Gloves, goggles and surgical masks must be worn to protect against the effects of anesthetic gases and infectious airborne diseases. Dentists must safeguard against injuries from hand-held dentistry tools.

  • How can I advance in the field of dental health and hygiene?
  • It's always possible to advance in dental health and hygiene. For instance, dental assistants can become dental hygienists or office managers. If you become a dental hygienist, you can go on to obtain a bachelor's or graduate degree in dental hygiene, thereby becoming qualified to teach or work in public health. As a dental laboratory technician, you may teach or supervise. Even if you become a dentist, you can acquire additional training so that you can teach dentistry or conduct research.

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It's always a good idea to give yourself an advantage over the competition when it comes to landing a job. Obtaining additional education and earning advanced degrees are often the best ways to gain an edge in a tough job market. Below are some tips you can employ to pave the way to a career in dental health:

Join a Dental Student Research Group
If you have an interest in dental research, you can prepare to become an independent investigative researcher in areas such as oral and soft tissue cancer, cariology and fluoride research and craniofacial biology. Opportunities exist for pre-doctoral, master's-level and Ph.D.

students to participate in short-term summer research fellowship programs in clinical agencies and laboratory settings.

Participate in a Dual Degree Program Enrolling in a Dental Early Acceptance Program (DEAP) will allow you to obtain bachelor's and DDS degrees in only seven years, so you can begin your career that much sooner. Acceptance is contingent upon academic scores and your college application. You can also earn the DDS/Ph.D. degrees in six, seven or eight years. Such programs are designed to develop biomedical and clinical scientists who will research oral health science concerns.

Enroll in Continuing Education Courses Continuing education is a great way of remaining cognizant of advances in technology. Some states require continuing education for dentists and dental staff as a condition of license renewal. As a dental hygienist, you might enroll in periodontal diseases, medical emergencies in oral healthcare or HIPAA continuing education courses. Dental assistants may take courses such as coronal polishing or pit and fissure sealants.

Professional Organizations

The dental health and hygiene profession boasts numerous professional organizations, which means you can collaborate with others in similar jobs who may provide career support and guidance. Some organizations are listed below:

The American Dental Hygienists' Association is made up of hygienists from around the country. It offers educational programs, and allows members to participate in decision-making processes.

With over 157,000 members, the American Dental Association is the world's largest dental society. Here, you'll find networking and continuing education opportunities, and much more.

Established in 1955, the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology offers professional certification opportunities, certificates of competency and continuing education programs.

By joining the American Dental Assistants Association, you'll receive medical insurance and travel discounts. Fellowship and mastership programs are also available.

Dental Health & Hygiene

Salaries in Dental Health and Hygiene

Type of Industry Type of Dental Health Worker 2010 Salaries
Dental Offices Dental Assistants $34,120
Medical Equipment & Supplies Manufacturing Dental Lab Technicians $37,770
Dental Offices Dental Hygienists $68,980
Dental Offices General Dentists $161,410
Dental Offices Orthodontists $203,390

Get Dental Health Education Scholarships

Carol Bauhs Benson Scholarship

Ranging from $1,000 to $2,000, this scholarship is granted through the Institute for Oral Health. It is expressly intended for dental hygiene students at the associate's degree or certificate level who have grade point averages (GPAs) of at least 3.0.

Crest Oral-B Laboratories Dental Hygiene Scholarships

This $1,000 scholarship is awarded to applicants who are studying dental hygiene at the baccalaureate level, and have a minimum of a 3.5 GPA.

William J. Gies Foundation Dental Research Scholarship

The William J. Gies Foundation awards a $35,000 grant to be spread over a 4-year period. Students must be pursuing careers in dental research to be eligible for the scholarship.

JAS / Oral-B Education Scholarship Program

The American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) offers a scholarship which is valued at $750. It is intended for dental assisting students who are members of the ADAA, and who achieve high academic scores.

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