Dental health professionals provide a very important service to the public, since they help people keep their teeth clean and cavity-free. Even individuals who brush and floss every day and avoid sugar won't have healthy mouths if they don't visit the dentist at least twice a year, since there are some things that people just can't do on their own. For example, while brushing and flossing can remove some of the bacteria that are present on teeth, once plaque forms, it can only be removed by a professional dental cleaning.
Since everyone needs to visit a dentist, there needs to be enough dental health professionals to meet the overwhelming need. According to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on dentists in America, the number of practicing dentists is projected by the American Association of Dental Schools to start declining in 2014. In particular, people who reside in rural areas may soon find themselves without a dentist within 50 miles or more of their home, which increases the chances that they will head to the hospital when they have dental pain.
Some people may be interested in a career in dentistry but are unsure what they need to do in order to make this happen. From dentists to dental researchers, there are many interesting and exciting careers in dental care that individuals should be looking into to help reduce the growing shortage of dental professionals in the U.S.
Dentists - According to the U.S. Department of Labor, high school students who are thinking about becoming a dentist should be proactive and take classes in chemistry, physics, biology, anatomy and mathematics. Most dental schools require at least a bachelor's degree before people will be admitted, and college students should take the Dental Acceptance Test during their junior year in order to qualify. Upon completing dental school, which will take about three or four years - more if a specialty such as oral surgery is pursued - people must then apply to get their dental license. Once all this is completed, people can become practicing dentists.
Dental hygienists - Of course, dentists aren't the only members of a dental care team - there are also dental hygienists who work directly with dentists, caring for patients and providing cleanings and other basic treatments. To become a dental hygienist, people must have a high school diploma or GED and be at least 18 years old. Once that is acquired, individuals then need either a two- or four-year degree in dental hygiene. According to Allied Health Schools, most two-year programs are obtained through community colleges or technical schools and lead to an associate degree, while four-year programs are at universities and lead to a bachelor's. After getting a degree, people can then get their license and become a hygienist.
Dental assistants - These dental health professionals work alongside a dentist, providing services such as sterilizing tools, mixing materials and making sure the dentist and dental hygienist have everything they need. According to the University of Florida Dental School's website, some assistants attend one-year certificate programs at the community college level, while others are hired and trained directly by dentists.
In the end, the dental position a person chooses mostly depends on how much schooling he or she is willing and able to complete. Along with the ones listed here, people can also look into becoming dental researchers - who work in labs coming up with solutions for tooth decay and other common dental health problem - or dental technicians. Technicians create crowns, bridges and other appliances that can help strengthen and straighten teeth and improve a person's smile.
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