Dental care and hygiene make up just one of the many specialties in the medical field. As a dental student, you can tailor your studies for a variety of careers in dentistry, from a dental hygienist to a dental laboratory technician.
It can take you as little as two years to complete an Associate's of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene and gain the skills and knowledge necessary to work as a dental hygienist. Alternatively, it could take you more than six years to earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) and become a dentist. As a dental student, you may take courses in anatomy, biology, health and wellness, dental hygiene, pathology, medical emergencies, anxiety and pain control, preventative treatment and dental law. Those who pursue doctoral degrees in dentistry can choose an area of concentration, which can be in a dental specialty such oral surgery, orthodontics or periodontics.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects favorable job prospects for aspiring dental professionals over the 2008-2018 decade (www.bls.gov). Employment for dentists, dental hygienists and dental laboratory technicians is expected to grow faster than average compared to all other occupations. The BLS also reported that in May 2010 dentists earned an average annual salary of $158,770, while dental hygienists earned an average of $68,680. During the same period, dental laboratory technicians earned a reported salary of $37,980 per year.
Earning an undergraduate degree in a field like dental hygiene or dental technology can be a starting point for several different careers in dentistry. You can also choose to go on to medical school or consider a career in academia.
Both dentists and dental hygienists must be licensed by the state they intend to practice in before they can begin working. Most states will require individuals to have graduated from an accredited dental program, as well as pass a written and clinical exam. Most states also require dentists to have completed a 2-year residency in addition to earning their license. For those interested in working as dental laboratory technicians, state licensure may not be required to begin working, though many laboratories may require technicians to complete regular continuing education to stay up-to-date on the latest practices.