The dental field involves caring for patients’ mouths and gums, and there are many positions to pursue in the industry. Many dental careers provide fulfilling opportunities to help other people maintain their oral health and improve the appearance of their smiles. Depending on the position you desire, you may need to pursue a four-year degree or additional education. In this article, we will explore some of the most appealing and rewarding careers in the dental field.
Why work in the dental field?
A career in the dental field allows you to engage with other people while helping them feel more comfortable in a setting that can cause some discomfort and concern. Many patients worry about visiting the dentist, so being able to offer support and resources that allow them to feel better while improving their oral health provides fulfillment for those who choose this career path. The dental industry is also part of the growing healthcare industry, which ensures promising job prospects.
Types of dental jobs
Those who enjoy working with people and providing dental care can find fulfilling and appealing positions in this industry. Here are eight popular jobs available in the dental field, ranging from lowest to highest earning potential:
- Medical receptionist
- Medical biller
- Dental assistant
- Dental hygienist
- Oral and maxillofacial surgeon
National average salary: $13.99 per hour
Primary duties: A medical office receptionist often works in a dental office to handle basic clerical tasks. These tasks include answering phones, scheduling appointments, greeting and checking in patients when they arrive in the office and maintaining the appearance of the dental office, especially the front desk. Additionally, a medical receptionist must keep patient data private and confidential in accordance with local and national laws.
Education requirements: To work as a medical receptionist, you must have a high school diploma or GED. Knowledge of medical procedures and terminology can also make it easier to get a job.
National average salary: $15.94 per hour
Primary duties: A medical biller works in a dental office to calculate and collect payments for the procedures and treatments performed by the dentist and other staff. The primary duties include updating patient information, preparing invoices, submitting bills to insurance companies, collecting payments, investigating claims that insurance companies deny and applying insurance payments to patient accounts. A medical biller must make sure they bill all treatments and procedures accurately and quickly.
Education requirements: A medical biller must have a high school diploma, and some dental offices require those in this position to have at least a few years of experience. A bachelor’s degree in a related field may also be required, such as business, accounting or health care administration, although experience in medical billing is generally accepted in lieu of formal education.
National average salary: $17.60 per hour
Primary duties: A dental assistant works alongside a dentist to perform patient care and assist with any needs the dentist has while performing procedures, treatments and exams. Dental assistants cannot perform the same tasks as a licensed dental hygienist. Some of the most common duties include preparing the treatment room with tools and equipment, preparing patients for treatments by seating and draping them, answering patient questions, sterilizing tools, maintaining patient records, providing patient education, ensuring a clean and safe working environment and maintaining the inventory of supplies needed in the dental office.
Education requirements: To work in this position, you must complete a dental assisting program through a community college, vocational school, university, dental school or technical institute. Most programs take between nine and 11 months to complete, although some schools offer accelerated options.
The Commission on Dental Accreditation, a division of the American Dental Association, provides accreditation for 270 dental assistant programs across the United States. A dental assistant may also choose to take a certification exam through the Dental Assisting National Board, which allows them to become a Certified Dental Assistant.
National average salary: $38.21 per hour
Primary duties: Dental hygienists provide preventive dental care to patients, including performing exams, cleaning teeth and educating on good oral hygiene practices. Other duties include polishing and removing plaque from teeth, reviewing and maintaining patient health records and using X-ray equipment to take images of the teeth and roots.
In some states, a dental hygienist may be able to perform additional duties, such as removing stitches, administering anesthesia during minor dental procedures, working with metal components and sculpting filling materials to fill cavities in the teeth. Dental hygienists must work under a licensed dentist.
Education requirements: Working as a dental hygienist requires the completion of a high school diploma, followed by a dental hygiene degree from an accredited university or college. Some dental hygienists have associate degrees, while others have bachelor’s degrees—this often depends on the state in which the hygienist works.
National average salary: $191,868 per year
Primary duties: Dentists diagnose and treat the mouth, including the gums, teeth and other related parts. The primary duties include performing examinations, analyzing X-rays and other images, diagnosing problems, developing treatment plans, filling cavities, removing teeth, placing permanent implants and crowns and performing other treatments and procedures on patients.
Education requirements: A dentist must earn a bachelor’s degree and graduate from an accredited dental school. Dental school takes four years to complete in a full-time program. Following the completion of dental school, a dentist must pass a clinical and written exam to become licensed, which is a requirement in all states in the U.S.
National average salary: $207,456 per year
Primary duties: A periodontist diagnoses and treats the gums and bones that surround the jaw. Duties include placing implants, providing preventive care, developing treatment plans for patients, performing tissue reductions or grafts and providing both surgical and non-surgical options to treat gum issues.
Education requirements: Similar to a dentist, a periodontist must complete a bachelor’s degree and graduate from an accredited dental school. After completing dental school, a periodontist must complete a residency program that focuses on gum issues and diseases. All states require periodontists to hold current licensure, which involves passing clinical and written exams.
National average salary: $210,715 per year
Primary duties: Oral and maxillofacial surgeons perform surgical procedures on the soft and hard tissues of the maxillofacial and oral regions of patients to treat injuries, diseases or defects. Other duties include administering local anesthetics, evaluating X-ray images to determine the position of the wisdom teeth and other teeth for removal, performing surgery that prepares the mouth for the placement of oral implants, removing damaged, impacted and non-restorable teeth, providing emergency treatment of injuries of the soft tissues of the face and oral region and moving or removing skin, nerves, bones and other tissues from other body parts to restore function and form to the oral or facial region.
Education requirements: To become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, the first step is completing a bachelor’s degree. The next step is graduating from an accredited dental school, followed by the completion of residency training that takes four to six years. The six-year program often involves earning a medical degree in addition to receiving the training required to perform surgery. In all states, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon must hold a current license, which requires the passing of a clinical and written exam. Many oral and maxillofacial surgeons also choose to become board certified, which they can do through the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.
National average salary: $278,286 per year
Primary duties: An orthodontist examines and provides treatment for anomalies in the oral cavity and dental malocclusions in patients. Orthodontists generally focus on straightening teeth and jaws through the use of braces and retainers. Additional duties include analyzing X-ray images, developing treatment plans, studying patients’ medical and dental histories, fitting patients with braces, retainers and other dental appliances and maintaining treatment records.
Education requirements: An orthodontist must earn a bachelor’s degree and graduate from an accredited dental school. Following the completion of dental school, they need to earn a certification in orthodontics, which takes an additional three years. An orthodontist must also hold a current license in the state in which they practice.