Dentistry Degrees: Here’s what you need to know

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Before you even ace that first dentistry exam, you need to pick a specific dentistry degree! Luckily, there is a wide variety of dentistry degree programs available for the choosing, including degrees at the associate’s, bachelor’s and doctorate’s level. Although there will most likely be common overlap between each degree, please be aware that each degree program will lead to a different career in the field of dentistry.

Essential Information
If you’re dream job is to become a certified dental assistant, an associate’s degree is the right degree for you. Typical programs include classroom, clinical and laboratory training all geared to prepare students for work as dental assistants. To gain relevant experience before taking the Certified Dental Assistant certification exam, it is also common for students to partake in internships or externships in the world of dental science.

For prospective students wishing to become dental hygienists, a bachelor’s degree program in dental hygiene is the way to go. A bachelor’s program will provide clinical training and prepare students to enter the dental hygiene field. However, students will have to meet state requirements after they graduate in order to earn an official dental hygiene license.

Not interested in being a dental assistant or dental hygienist? If that’s the case, how does a career as a dentist or dental specialist sound? For those aiming to make the big bucks, a doctorate program is necessary. For many top tier dental programs, a high score on the Dental Admissions Test is required to gain admittance. Once accepted into their program, students will learn how to diagnose, execute detailed examinations and perform dental procedures. In order to get real world experience, students also will be exposed to clinical rotations and internships. As a final measure, students will need to become licensed by their respective states in order to practice dentistry.

Associate's Degree in Dental Assisting
So, what is dental assisting all about exactly? A dentist’s best friend, dental assistant do a little bit of everything to make sure everything runs smoothly. Normal duties include providing patient care, collecting patient medical history, managing office tasks and offering a helping hand during procedures. While earning their associate’s degree, students will take business classes, learn about the general dentistry field and be exposed to laboratory and clinical training. Internships and externships are commonly done as a means of getting hands on experience in dental offices. To become certified, students will have to pass the Dental Assisting National Board exam at the end of their program. Students have a variety of options on where to earn their associate’s degree, including community colleges, private schools, vocational schools and technology institutes.

Common courses include:
Dental materials
Pharmacology and clinical procedures
Dental specialties and science
Chair-side assisting
Dental radiography
Business skills

Bachelor's Degree in Dental Hygiene
Want something more hands on, but at the same time manageable? If so, you should study dental hygiene. As a dental hygienist, you will educate your patients proper oral care, examine teeth and gums, diagnose oral diseases, familiarize yourself with dental tools and equipment, and perform a variety of procedures under the supervision of a licensed dentist. In order to earn a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, you’ll have to earn a bachelor’s of science degree at a college or university. As a dental hygienist student, you will study dental science and be exposed to laboratory and clinical training.

Common courses include:
Oral radiology
Local anesthesia
Dental morphology and dental specialties

Doctoral Degree in Dentistry
The most prestigious degree, a doctorate’s degree in dentistry is the way to go for students looking to go above and beyond in the world of dentistry. Commonly known as a Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Medicine, students studying to become a dentist will learn about the dental care system, diagnosis and treatment of oral diseases and become experts in dental treatment procedures through experience with models and patients. More advanced coursework will include restorative dentistry, oral surgery, pediatric dentistry and other dental specialities. Students will gain practical experience in the form of co ops and internships, and will be exposed to clinical biological science classes. Most doctorate degrees take 4 years to complete in addition to 4 years of undergraduate dental work.

Common courses include:
Dentistry biostatistics
Molecular biology and oral microbiology
Head and neck anatomy
Dental radiography occlusion
Operative dentistry

Employment Outlook and Salary
Many jobs related to dentistry are predicted to increase in the years to come due to a variety of factors. With a growing population that places more and more importance on oral wellbeing, better overall insurance coverages and just flat out constant demand, dental assistants, hygienists, and dentists are enjoying very competitive salaries.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the dental assistant profession is projected to grow 18% between 2014-2014. Well above the national average of job growth, more dentists than ever before are looking to hire dental assistants. Dental assistants earn an average annual salary of $35,980 as of May 2015 (BLS).

Also in a phase of rapid growth is the dental hygienist profession, predicted to grow 19% between 2014-2024 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Salaries range quite a bit for dental hygienists according to experience level and region. However, the median annual salary is reported at $72,330 as of May 2015 (BLS).

Last but certainly not least, dentists are predicted to grow at 18% according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top earners of the bunch, dentists earn an annual median salary $158,310 as of May 2015 (BLS).

Licensure and Certification
In order to legally practice in the United State, all dental professions require some sort of license and certification. To make matters more complex, the process for obtaining a license varies from state to state for dental assistants while dental hygienists and dentists must receive their license from the actual state they plan to practice in.

To practice, a dental assistant is expected to have a Certified Dental Assistant certification and must meet all education and experience requirements set beforehand. A dental hygienist must pass a written and practical in the state they plan to practice after graduating from a degree program. Dentists must pass a written and clinical exam after earning their doctorate in order to practice officially.

In the end, the dentistry field is very promising and offers lucrative careers to those willing to put in the effort! Whether its earning an associate degree to become a dental assistant or grinding out a bachelor’s and doctorate’s degree to become a dentist, you can’t go wrong with a career in the dentistry field.

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