Students considering a career in the oral health field who do not want to undertake the time and expense of becoming a dentist have an array of options. A team of professionals all assist with patient care. Hygienist, assistant, and technicians are great career options in the field of dentistry.
The occupation with which most people are familiar is hygienist. These oral health professionals work under the supervision of a dentist and may work in a clinic, hospital, or nursing facility. In addition to conducting patients’ biannual cleanings, hygienists teach patients about proper brushing and flossing techniques, perform oral cancer screenings, and take x-rays.
Becoming a hygienist requires the most education of these occupations. Most earn at least an associate’s degree. Others go on to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in order to advance their career or go into research or teaching. Completing a hygiene program can take between two and six years, depending on the degree sought. All 50 states require practical and written exams for licensing.
Assistants are another part of the team. They provide some aspects of patient care and work alongside the dentist and hygienist, but cannot perform tasks that require a license. An assistant’s duties can include preparing the patient for treatments or cleanings, sterilizing equipment, or processing x-rays. He or she can help during a procedure by using the suction tool to clear the patient’s mouth. Additionally, the assistant helps maintain patient records and performs other clerical duties.
The assistant position requires completion of a certificate program at a technical school or community college. The program takes nine to eleven months to complete and some schools offer accelerated programs. On-the-job training can be an option as well. Assistants who complete a certificate program are eligible to sit for the Dental Assisting National Board Examination in order to become nationally certified. Those who received on-the-job training may take the exam after two years of work experience.
Assistants are also in demand. Employment growth of 24.5 percent is predicted for this job, which is much faster than average for all professions. The increase in people taking better care of their teeth and seeing their dentist for biannual visits drives the growth of this occupation.
Finally, technicians assist in patient care by creating custom-made prosthetics. The technician creates crowns, bridges, implants, prosthetics, orthodontic appliances, and mouth guards based on prescriptions, drawings, and measurements.
Training for technicians can be completed in about two years at a community college or technical school. Additionally, there are a few bachelor’s degree programs. Certification is available through the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology. Technicians who pass the certification exam can specialize in dentures, removable partials, crowns and bridges, ceramics, or orthodontics.
Jobs in this field are projected to grow faster than average, especially as patients take better care of their teeth. Students interested in a career as a hygienist, assistant, or technician should contact their local college or university to enroll in courses. sterile processing technician certification