Dental Job Fields

What is a Dental Hygienist?

There is no profession that works more closely with dentists than Registered Dental Hygienists (RDH). Working as an RDH can be a great jumping off point for a career in dentistry. A dental hygienist is usually the first person a patient interacts with when going to the dentist’s
Becoming an RDH means taking an exam similar to that of a dentist to be qualified to practice and also requires state certification. However, in some cases you can enter the profession with as little as an Associate’s Degree. According to the ADA’s Commission on Dental Accreditation there are nearly 300 accredited dental hygiene education programs. This means the RDH accreditation is far more attainable than a dental degree. There are advanced degrees available to those who wish to make dental hygiene their permanent career.

What are the specialty fields of dentistry?

The vast majority of dentists, about 80% in fact, practice general or family dentistry. There are; however, many options available to those who want to pursue a more specialized field of dentistry that might better suite their personality and skill set. In some cases, as with endodontistry for example, the specialist focuses very narrowly on a specific task. By performing one task many, many times a specialist hones and develops his skill so as to become extremely proficient.

A specialist is often far better qualified than a general dentist to perform more complicated versions of a common procedure like root canal therapy. For this reason a general dentist often sends this type of work out to a specialist in his network. There are nine fields of specialized dentistry currently recognized by the ADA:

  1. Dental Public Health: This is the form of dentistry that is responsible for promoting dental health within a community to prevent and control the spread of dental diseases. A Public Health dentist is responsible for educating the public on dental health and administering group dental care programs through community clinics and organized community events. To earn accreditation for this type of dentistry requires an additional two to three years of school.
  2. Endodontics: This specialty focuses on the morphology (form and structure), physiology, and pathology of dental pulp. Dental pulp is the soft tissue made up of nerves and blood vessels that comprise the inner part of a tooth. Endodontists are best know for performing root canal treatment which involves drilling vertically through the tooth to remove infected or diseased inner-tooth pulp below the enamel. Root canals are among the more common dental procedures performed. This field requires at least two additional years of study beyond dental school.
  3. Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology: This specialist diagnoses and treats diseases, cancers, tumors, cysts or other abnormalities of the maxillofacial region otherwise known as the face and jaws. Diagnosis is done by means of biopsy and inspection of affected tissue through a microscope. The Oral and maxillofacial pathologist takes either a non-surgical or less invasive surgical approach to the treatment of these conditions by use of medicine, antibiotics, and careful observation to track the improvement of a condition. Three to four years of post graduate study are necessary for a career in this specialized field of dentistry.
  4. Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology: Think of this specialist as a radiologist or X-ray Tech for the teeth, face, and mouth. An oral and maxillofacial radiologist is responsible for producing images of the teeth and jaws using X-ray or other similar means and interpreting these images to determine the disease or disorder of the face and jaws so as to know which treatment would be best to correct the condition. This field requires two to three years of additional schooling.
  5. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery: According to the ADA the most commonly performed operation by an Oral and maxillofacial surgeon is the removal of wisdom teeth. Wisdom teeth are four molars, often superfluous, that emerges in the late teenage years and can remain impacted in the jaw causing inflammation and crowding of the teeth. An oral and maxillofacial surgeon can also perform major operations to remove cysts or cancers, or to correct injury and malformation of the teeth, face and jaws. Students should expect three to four years of additional education to pursue this specialty.
  6. Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics: This is the specialized field of dentistry that focuses on aligning teeth and jaws for both functional and esthetic reasons. The best known procedural practice of orthodontists and dentofacial orthopedists is the use of braces and retainers to correct overbites, underbites, or misaligned teeth. With an additional two to four years of college a student can earn the masters degree necessary to practice in this specialty field.
  7. Pediatric Dentistry: As the title implies this specialty involves working specifically with infants and children to diagnose and treat their special dental needs. What might be surprising is that according to a Surgeon General’s 2002 report, cavities and tooth decay are the single most common childhood medical ailments. A pediatric dentist’s most frequently performed task then is the diagnosis and treatment of this ailment through cleaning, fluoridation, and cavity fillings. An additional year or two of post graduate studies are needed to earn a Masters in Pediatric Dentistry.
  8. Periodontics: This is the dental specialty that deals with diseases and disorders of the areas immediately surrounding the teeth such as the gums, the alveolar bone which contains tooth sockets, the unique calcified substance that surrounds the root of the tooth, and the fibers that connect the tooth to the alveolar bone called periodontal ligaments. Periodontists often perform surgery to correct receded gum lines affected by gum disease. Most post graduate periodontal programs last two to three years.
  9. Prosthodontics: Prosthodontists are responsible for restoring and maintaining a patient’s smile that has been affected by tooth loss resulting from disease, injury or neglect. This specialist uses prosthetics, which are artificial structures, to replace missing teeth. Commonly used prosthetics are partial or full, fixed or removable dentures, implants, and bridges. Two to three years of additional schooling are needed to become a prosthodontist.

What is Cosmetic Dentistry?

Most dentists or dental specialists in the course of their normal practice perform some sort of cosmetic dentistry. For example the use of a more natural tooth-colored material for fillings rather than the traditional dark-colored metal or amalgam is considered a cosmetic approach to dentistry since it takes into consideration the natural appearance of the patient’s teeth and smile. In today’s appearance-conscious world there is a greater need than ever for this type of dentistry. In fact, there are dentists who have opened and operate specialized cosmetic dental clinics and whose main focus is improving the esthetic appearance of teeth.

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What are some other common cosmetic dental procedures?

Teeth whitening or bleaching is by far and away the most common cosmetic dental procedure. Whiting is the process by which the natural tooth color is restored by removing debris built up in microscopic cracks in the tooth enamel. Bleaching involves the use of chemicals to whiten teeth beyond their natural color.

Cosmetic dentistry also includes the application of porcelain inlays, onlays, or veneers to correct decayed, broken, worn, or discolored teeth. These artificial structures are created in a lab then fit in place using a special dental adhesive.

A process called composite bonding is used to repair chipped or broken teeth by molding and shaping a composite material to restore the original appearance and structure of the affected teeth.

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Cosmetic dentistry can also involve much more dramatic undertakings like full mouth reconstruction to address functional problems with muscle, teeth and bone structure. Under these circumstances one or more dental specialists, often an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and an orthodontist, would be called upon to lend their expertise.

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