If you're considering a career in dentistry, there are quite a few options available for you to choose from. There are Dentists, dental assistants, dental hygienists, and a number of specialists like orthodontists, periodontists and oral surgeons.
Here we'll discuss the differences between the two most recognizable positions in the field - Dentists and dental assistants, as well as what it takes to start a career in each.
The dental assistant has a number of very important responsibilities in relation to patient care. Dental assistants are the only ones in the dental office who are completely involved in the patients care from beginning to end. Some common responsibilities would include: interviewing the patient to obtain information regarding any problems that they've been having; taking, developing and viewing x-rays to identify problems areas; sterilizing and preparing the instruments that will be used by the dentist during the exam and course of treatment; assisting the Dentist throughout the exam and any procedures; providing any necessary after care instructions and scheduling any necessary follow up appointments.
The Dentist is responsible for the actual treatment - they take into account all the information provided by the dental assistant, perform their full examination and determine what course of action would best suit the patient's situation. The dentist is responsible for performing the necessary course of treatment for the patient's problem - this could include: giving a local or general anesthetic, applying temporary or permanent caps, temporary of permanent fillings, removing teeth, whitening teeth, fixing broken or worn teeth and potentially even root canals and gum surgery.
Education and Training
This is where the biggest differentiation lies - in the amount of school and coursework required for each individual position. The training and education required to become a dental assistant is no doubt intensive, but the curriculum can often be completed within a year's time. A very good student in an accelerated program may be able to certify as a dental assistant and begin work in as little as nine months, but in general - it's nearly a year of hitting the books to be fully prepared.
The amount of time and training required to be a licensed D.D.M. can vary quite a bit, but in some instances it can be almost as long a program as that of medical resident. A four year degree is often the standard before entering a school of Dentistry - this can however be reduced to a two year degree if the student is an exceptional case. A school of Dentistry can than take an additional two to four years to complete, or more if the Dentist chooses to specialize. Followed by at least one year of Residency in a learning environment where the Dentist will get hands on time with all of the practices and procedures that they learned during Dental school with actual patients.
That's one year of education and training to be a qualified dental assistant and anywhere from six to nine years, or more to be a licensed practicing Dentist. A Dentist has to be prepared to handle many more potentially difficult scenarios in the office than does a dental assistant - and the length of education and training reflects that.
Both D.M.D. and dental assistant are excellent career choices that can be very lucrative and very rewarding. Both positions put you in a position of helping, teaching and caring for people, both are in high demand and with continuing education to keep up to speed, both could very easily prove to be a life long career. Anyone who wants a reasonably quick career change and to make reasonably good money would be wise to choose to become a dental assistant. A student entering college, with high GPA and aptitude in the sciences and a love for school could lean toward the longer commitment of Dentistry. The similarities between these two careers are many; the differences lie mainly in the investments of time and money to attain the proper training.