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Dental Professions

If you like working with your hands, have good dexterity, are comfortable handling tools and are detail-oriented, compassionate and have strong interpersonal skills, then a career in the dental profession may be the right career choice for you.

A career in the dental profession can provide a steady source of income, but varying education and state licensure requirements are needed to practice in the profession. A position such as a dental assistant may have no formal education requirements, whereas a dentist is required to have a bachelor’s degree and attend an accredited dental school to earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Medicine.

Dental assistant

The requirements for becoming a dental assistant vary from state-to-state. Some states require no formal education, and some states require graduation from an accredited program and passing a state exam. Information about your specific state and finding a program can be found by visiting the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

Dental hygienist

In all states, the requirements for becoming a dental hygienist are an associate degree in dental hygiene and state licensure. You can visit the Military State Policy Source website to find information about licensure portability and other key issues that affect service members and military families, and efforts being made to address those issues at a state level.

Dentist

All states require a dentist to have graduated from an accredited dental school, passed a written and practical exam and obtained state licensure.

You can visit College Scorecard and select the program/degree, location, size and more to find a program near you. To find ways to help pay for your training courses, you can visit the Scholarship Finder to search for tuition assistance, and visit the Department of Defense Voluntary Education and Military Tuition Assistance program, which can help you prepare for your training both strategically and financially.

Roles and responsibilities

Professionals working in dentistry often have specific duties determined by employment position.

Dental assistant

  • Works with patients to make them comfortable in the dental chair and prepare them for treatments and procedures
  • Sterilizes dental instruments
  • Prepares the work area for patient treatment by setting out instruments and materials
  • Helps dentists by handing them instruments during procedures
  • Keeps patients' mouths dry by using suction hoses and other equipment
  • Instructs patients in proper dental hygiene
  • Processes x-rays and completes lab tasks, under the direction of a dentist
  • Keeps records of dental treatments
  • Schedules patient appointments
  • Works with patients on billing and payment

Dental hygienist

  • Removes tartar, stains and plaque from teeth
  • Applies sealants and fluorides to help protect teeth
  • Takes and develops dental x-rays
  • Keeps track of patient care and treatment plans
  • Teaches patients oral hygiene techniques, such as how to brush and floss correctly

Dentist

  • Removes decay from teeth and fills cavities
  • Repairs cracked or fractured teeth and removes teeth
  • Straightens teeth to correct bite issues
  • Places sealants or whitening agents on teeth
  • Administers anesthetics to keep patients from feeling pain during procedures
  • Writes prescriptions for antibiotics or other medications
  • Examines x-rays of teeth, gums, the jaw and nearby areas for problems
  • Makes models and measurements for dental appliances, such as dentures, to fit patients
  • Teaches patients about diet, flossing, use of fluoride and other aspects of dental care

Professional organizations and networking

Consider joining a professional organization in your chosen field to gain a better understanding of current industry practices and policies of the dental profession. Professional organizations are great ways to continue your education through workshops and conferences, which will add to your transferable skill set as you move. Networking with other professionals in your industry will give you an edge in meeting the right people who may have the connections you need to obtain an interview at your new location. They may give you more information about the field and suggest other networking contacts, which could lead to job openings. Read The Value of Professional Associations for more information on how becoming a member can help enhance your career.

Finding employment

Whether you are just starting your career or looking for a new job after relocation, you can search the Military Spouse Employment Partnership Job Search using the keyword “dental” to find available positions with MSEP partners. You can also search your local state and national job bank. Another popular option for spouses just getting into the occupation is to complete an apprenticeship program, gaining the skills you will need to be successful. You may find an apprenticeship in your location by visiting O*Net Online.

It may not always be easy to find a job in your specific occupation, so you may want to consider types of employment similar to those in the dental industry. Many of these occupations require the same skills and knowledge and have very similar work environments. A few of these occupations include the following:

Next steps

To explore additional information related to starting your career in the dental profession, check out the Research Occupations tool on MySECO. Enter the keywords 'Dental Assistants,' 'Dental Hygienists' or 'Dentists, General' to learn more about the occupational overview for your specialty field. If you need additional information on obtaining the proper license or certification as part of your specialty field, visit the Advantages of Licensure article in the Licensures and Certifications section of the Education, Training and Licensing lifecycle stage of MySECO. If you have questions related to the portability of your license or certification, you can visit the Spouse Licensure Map to find your specific state’s reciprocity agreements. You can also speak with a career coach at 800-342-9647 to discuss any questions or concerns you may have.

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