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    How to Become a Dentist in 2021

    October 4, 2021 | Staff Writers

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    The medical field has many career paths. One of the most lucrative careers in medicine is dentistry. Dentistry involves taking care of oral health, especially teeth. Like other careers in medicine, dentistry requires a lot of work both at school and in professional practice. You should evaluate your likes and abilities well before starting a career in dentistry. One of the best ways to ensure the career suits you is by consulting a career expert. Understanding what is expected of you in a profession prepares you mentally for practice. With dentistry and other careers in medicine, you have to be passionate about your work for success in your career life.

    There are several other professions within dentistry that you could pursue. These professions include dental hygienists and dental assistants. There are many ways of becoming a dentist. The main method of becoming a dentist is attending an undergraduate degree program in dentistry after high school education. Most employers require dentists to have a minimum qualification of a bachelor’s degree to be absorbed into the workforce. Another way to become a dentist is by attaining an associate degree in related courses and later pursuing a dental degree. With an associate degree in courses like dental hygiene, you get to work in the same environment as dentists and learn from them.

    For a better understanding of dentistry as a career, how to become a dentist, and the benefits thereof, we explore the following in this article:

    1. Specializations in dentistry
    2. Dental school courses and requirements
    3. Certifications needed to become a dentist
    4. Salary outlook for dentists

    Specializations in Dentistry

    As stated earlier, dentistry has several subdivisions. These subdivisions require different qualifications and involve distinct roles. However, they work concurrently in maintaining the dental health of individuals. While starting your career in dentistry, you need to consult career experts and practicing dentists to know which specialization suits you best. Studying for specializations in dentistry takes different time lengths depending on their technicality. Here are some common specializations in dentistry that you can pursue.

    • Dental Hygiene

    One of the important elements of dental health care is dental hygiene. Various technical factors affect a person’s dental hygiene. For this reason, individuals within the dentistry profession could specialize in handling dental hygiene. Dental hygiene deals with cleaning and maintaining the cleanliness of one’s teeth. There are various roles for dental hygienists within the industry. The main ones are cleaning teeth for people affected by long-term exposure to discoloration. Although seen as an aesthetic operation, restoring the original color of teeth boosts patients’ self-esteem. Another duty of dental hygienists is preparing patients for other procedures such as surgery. They clean a patient’s teeth to prevent chances of further infections during surgery.

    • Dental Surgery

    Dental surgery is considered the most technical specialization in dentistry. It involves cutting the flesh around teeth to treat an infection. There are different forms of dental surgery. The common ones are corrective surgeries. As a dental surgeon, you must understand all the procedures involved in the forms of surgery. However, you can focus on a single type, which could be correctional, surgeries by advancing your studies. Corrective surgeries are operations to restore the initial state of someone’s dental structure. They are common in cases of accidents where jaws could be fractured or displaced. Surgeries conducted for treatment purposes also vary depending on the condition. When one has a persistent infection in the gums, surgery is a treatment option. The technicality in dental surgery is the main reason dental surgeons take longer in school.

    • Pediatric Dentistry

    The anatomy of children is different from that of adults, which is why pediatric medicine is studied. In dentistry, you can specialize in taking care of children with dental complications. Pediatric dentistry is one of the most coveted career paths in the profession. Children have a wide range of dental complications, and the demand for pediatric dental care is high. To be a pediatric dentist, you must undergo basic dental training. Many concepts between adult and children’s dental care are related. You will specialize in pediatric dentistry at a later stage in your career.

    • Dentofacial Orthopedics

    Corrective surgeries are steadily rising with changes in lifestyles and technological influences. Dentofacial orthopedics is the branch of dentistry that deals with correcting the dental formula of people. There are many reasons for corrective dental treatments. While most are necessary, others are for aesthetic purposes. For instance, someone could go for a dentofacial orthopedic procedure to make their jaws look better. Dentofacial orthopedists play a role in the recovery of accident victims. In case of injury to the jaw or teeth, dentofacial orthopedists help realign the displaced parts. Some children are born with misaligned jaws due to pregnancy complications or complications during birth. Such children see dentofacial orthopedists who realign the displaced parts.

    • Dental Public Health

    Public health is one of the important courses in medicine. Public health specialists are tasked with the management of medical institutions. If you specialize in dental public health, you gain the skills to run a dental institution. Although it is mostly administration, you have to learn the fundamentals of dentistry as a career. You are trained on the necessary medical procedures involved in dentistry. Dental public health officers also administer medication when needed. However, they have to work under instructions from a licensed dentist.

    There are many other specializations in dentistry. However, those named above are the most common and taught in many institutions. The qualifications needed to enter any of the specializations differ from one state to another. It is easier for a practicing dentist to shift from one specialization to another. In such cases, you might not be required to present proof of academic qualifications from your previous level of study. Instead, you will have to undergo additional training to fit your new specialization, depending on your work experience.

    Dental School Courses and Requirements

    Like other professions, dentistry has several requirements for individuals seeking to pursue it. Some of the requirements are stringent depending on the level and specialization you want to major in. The different levels of education you can pursue in dentistry include certificate, associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or higher educational levels, such as masters and Ph.D. At lower levels, you must provide your high school grades. This implies that you must perform better in essential subjects to be admitted into a dental school. If you want to pursue any profession in dentistry, including dental assistants, you must perform well in chemistry, biology, and mathematics. Dentistry, just like other medical courses, requires critical thinking and involves various biological and chemical processes.

    After high school, you need to submit applications to your preferred dental schools for consideration. Most high school institutions recommend their students to their desired dental schools. Before settling on a dental school to enroll in, you need to consider several factors. These factors determine marketability and comfort in your career. There are many dental institutions, which makes finding a suitable dental school a challenge. Here are some common factors you should consider when choosing a dental school to enroll in.

    • Quality of training offered– Different schools offer different levels of training. When choosing a dental school, you should evaluate the degree of training you will get from the institution. Some institutions are better equipped than others. Such institutions are likely to offer quality training for whatever specialization you wish to pursue. The school you enroll in should have adequate tutors and laboratories. The presence of these facilities guarantees you both mental and physical skills for your career. Additionally, institutions with proper training facilities are marked by many employers. This implies that you stand a higher chance of being employed by attending dental schools known for quality training. If you enroll in an online training program, you should ensure the institution allocates adequate tutoring for online students. The institution should also have adequate reading materials for your studies.
    • Availability of specializations– An institution’s diversity is a critical indicator of whether it is suitable or not. Availability of specializations is an essential consideration if you want to further your studies. Although some dental schools are renowned for excellent training, the specialization you want to pursue could be unavailable. In some cases, it could be available but with inadequate resources to guarantee quality training. Consulting practicing dentists in your specialization of interest is one of the best ways to tell whether a dental school has the program or not. If you wish to study online, reading reviews by other students is a good way to tell the suitability of an institution.
    • Cost of the program– Financial considerations are essential when making career-related decisions. After high school, it is normal that everyone wishes to attend the best school and get the best job. The amount of money you spend in school should not be more than what you could earn in your career. Completing a training program in dentistry could be challenging in terms of finances. In most cases, institutions that guarantee quality training charge high tuition fees. There are several other expenses that you might incur as a student in a dental school. However, how much you spend on additional expenses depends on the mode of training you choose. With online learning, you eliminate expenses such as food, rent, and transport expenses. When your desired program is too expensive than you can afford, you can apply for student financial aid. Various organizations give out financial assistance to students through scholarships, grants, and student loans.

    After submitting your application, you could be shortlisted by your institution of choice for an interview. Various institutions follow the system where individuals get tested before admission. However, the time of the test could vary. If you are applying for an undergraduate degree, you will likely sit for your dental admission test in the summer. During this period, most dental schools prepare for new students.

    If you intend to venture into dentistry, you should prepare from an early stage. In most cases, high school level is when you should start shaping your future as a dentist. There are several ways to prepare for a career in dentistry while in high school. These include:

    • Focusing on key subjects- At high school, you should choose subjects you wish to study for your last year. The subjects you choose and how you perform determines your career life. If you want to be a dentist, you should major in chemistry, biology, and mathematics. Dentistry is part of medicine, which implies that you have to study anatomy like other medical students. Studying biology and chemistry at high school provides you a foundation for the detailed biological and chemical process you study in an anatomy class in dental schools.
    • Consult dentists and career experts- Choosing a career could be difficult; however, if you are passionate about dentistry, all you need is motivation to achieve it. Interacting with practicing dentists and career experts helps you understand the suitability of the career. A career expert will analyze your abilities and passion and advise you on the best specialization to major in. Practicing dentists will give you insight into the actual state of dentistry. You get to learn all the benefits and challenges that come with being a dentist.

    Certifications Needed to Become A Dentist

    Dentistry is one of the professions that directly affect people. Therefore, the government has to regulate how dentists and other professionals in this field operate. One of the ways to regulate dentists is through licensing. There are various licenses issued to dentists, depending on their specialization. There are licenses by the government to recognize qualifications as a dentist. However, you might need additional certifications to practice in some states. Licensing requirements could vary from one state to another. In some cases, you might have to undergo additional training to be certified to practice in a different state. However, the additional training could not take long since you only learn professional practice according to state laws. You can get the training through online schools, and sit for tests required by the certification boards. Here are some common licenses you should have as a dentist.

    • American Board of General Dentistry Certification

    This certification is important for everyone entering the dentistry career. A certification from the American Board of General Dentistry is proof that you have the skills and knowledge to practice. There are various conditions for getting this certificate, the main one being the completion of training from an institution accredited by the American Dental Association. This certification is important if you want to pursue general dentistry. If you add a specialization, you might be required to obtain further certification depending on the specialization you want.

    • American Board of Pediatric Dentistry

    As stated earlier, the anatomy of children is slightly different from that of grown-ups. In dentistry, practices used on children are different from those used on adults. For this reason, you might have to undergo special training to deal with dental problems affecting children. To practice as a pediatric dentist, you must be certified by the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry. The board is available in all states. To get the certificates, you must pass professional tests. These are to prove that you have the technical skills to handle children.

    There are many other important dental professional bodies. However, these bodies don’t provide professional certification and licensing. One of the most common dentistry professional bodies is the American Dental Association, ADA. The ADA is responsible for fighting for the rights of dentists and all other professionals in the dentistry field. With over 70 percent of doctors being members, the ADA is the largest dentistry professional body in the US. Other roles of the ADA include accreditation of dental schools. The board also reviews dental exams set in dental institutions.

    Various factors affect the certification process. The specialization you major in is one of the key factors that could affect your certification process. Specializations such as dental surgery are technical and therefore take longer for one to be certified. You must undergo certain training and tests to ensure you are suited for the job. On the other hand, dental assistants take less time to be certified professionals. Their duties do not involve a lot of technicalities and mostly work under a certified dentist.

    The minimum requirement for certification in dentistry depends on the specialization and state in which you operate. You need at least a bachelor’s degree to be certified as a dentist by the licensing boards. Additional academic qualifications such as master’s and Ph.D. can be obtained later on after years of practice as a professional dentist. You can be licensed to practice in dentistry with an associate degree. However, you will not be allowed to perform complex duties such as surgery or prescriptions. Associate degree holders can only work as high as dental assistants.

    Salary Outlook for Dentists

    One of the main reasons to enter a career is for financial gains. Dentistry is one of the best-paying careers. There are many schools in Texas where you can learn and become a professional in the dentistry field. Dentistry is a wide and accommodative field. For this reason, the amount of money you earn in your career depends on several factors. The main ones are:

    • Your employer- There are many places you could work as a professional in the dentistry field. Where you work determines how much money you earn. Some institutions, such as dental hospitals, offer higher pay for their staff. In such institutions, you are likely to work under strict conditions. Your job description determines how much you earn. For instance, some dental hospitals are in more populated areas than others. When the patient-to-doctor ratio is high, you will likely earn more since you will have a lot more work to do. You can work for schools to help take care of students’ dental health.
    • The level at which you practice- Like any other career, dentistry has different levels through which you climb in your career life. The level at which you practice directly impacts how much you earn as a professional in the dentistry field. At junior levels, you are likely to earn less. The lowest level you can start is dental assistance. With an associate degree. As you advance your studies, you earn more since your responsibilities also increase. Instead of doing what licensed dentists do, you must come up with solutions to dental complications by yourself. With higher levels of education, you can enter into managerial and administrative positions. At administrative positions, you will be earning more than your juniors. However, you have to be accountable for what your juniors do. Administrative and managerial jobs require skills that you can get in master’s or Ph.D. degree programs.
    • Additional skills- Having an extra skill is important for every professional. In dentistry, you need to have additional skills to earn more and be retained by your employer. Several soft skills are essential for modern-day dentistry. Some of these skills are research and computer skills. New dental complications emerge as times change. You need research skills to develop treatment procedures for such complications. With the integration of technology into medical care, several developments are incorporated into dentistry. Such include digitization of medical data. You need computer skills to record, store, and retrieve patient information from computer databases. If you master certain specializations in dentistry, you can work as a consultant in the field, allowing you to earn additional money while practicing. It requires a higher educational level of at least a master’s degree to be a consultant in dentistry. You can be a resource person for dental schools after attaining higher education qualifications and enough work experience.

    There are many other ways to earn as a professional in the dentistry field. However, focusing on money alone could lead to frustrations. In dentistry, income-generating opportunities occur as you advance in your career. It requires patience to make substantial amounts of money as a dentist. If your focus is money, you should consult professionals for advice on the most profitable specialization to choose. Specializations earn differently from one state to another since dental needs are not always standard. A good specialization is one that you can practice for as long as you wish. You should read the career outlook of the specialization you choose to know the trend in its demand.

    Other medical careers pay a lot of money as well. However, dentistry provides more opportunities for you to create additional income. Unlike in medicine, it is easier to venture into private practice as a dentist. However, you need to be registered by the American Dentistry Association to run a private dental clinic. Venturing into pediatric dentistry is one of the best ways to earn as a private dentist. With the increasing changes in lifestyle, children are more exposed to dental infections. This means the demand for pediatric dentists will continue rising. Other specializations to venture into include dentofacial orthopedics. More people face the pressure to correct how their faces look. This is through the realignment of jaws and teeth. Additionally, people could be involved in accidents and need your services as dentofacial orthodontist.

    In Summary

    Dentistry is a lucrative career field in medicine. Many specializations equip dental students with schools to perform distinct roles in dental care. Choosing a specialization is one of the hardest tasks one might face. You might fail to attain your career goals as a dentist by choosing the wrong specialization. If you intend to join the dentistry profession, you should prepare from as early as high school. There are many ways of preparing to be a professional in this field, the main one being focusing on essential subjects. Dental schools have various procedures for approving and admitting new students. However, all schools administer dental assessment tests, DAT, to students before accepting them.

    After completing your dental degree studies, you must be licensed to practice as a dentist within the US. Different licenses are depending on your specialization. Such licenses include the American Board of Pediatric Dentists that certifies you to practice pediatric dentistry. Dentists without any specialization need certification from the American Board of General Dentistry. Joining a professional body after certification is important. Professional bodies protect the rights of workers within the US. The professional body for dentists is the American Dentists Association.

    There are many ways to earn as a professional in the dentistry field. Other than getting a basic salary from your employer, you can earn it by venturing into private practice. However, you need licensure from the American Dentists Association to operate a private dental institution. Pediatric dentistry and dentofacial orthopedics are some of the highly demanded services in dentistry.

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