The opportunities that exist for dentists now and in the future make oral health one of the most exciting, challenging, and rewarding professions. Individuals who choose to pursue dental careers are motivated, scientifically curious, intelligent, ambitious, and socially conscious health professionals. They are men and women from diverse backgrounds and cultures, all of whom want to do work that makes a difference.
The notion of dentists as those who merely “fill teeth” is completely out-of-date. Today, dentists are highly sophisticated health professionals who provide a wide range of care that contributes enormously to the quality of their patients’ day-to-day lives by preventing tooth decay, periodontal disease, malocclusion, and oral-facial anomalies. These and other oral disorders can cause significant pain, improper chewing or digestion, dry mouth, abnormal speech, and altered facial appearance. Dentists are also instrumental in early detection of oral cancer and systemic conditions of the body that manifest themselves n the mouth, and they are at the forefront of a range of new developments in cosmetic and aesthetic practices.
- General Dentistry — General dentists use their oral diagnostic, preventative, surgical, and rehabilitative skills to restore damaged or missing tooth structure and treat diseases of the bone and soft tissue. They also provide patients with preventive oral health care.
- Dental Public Health — These individuals are involved in developing policies and programs (like health care reform) that affect the community at large.
- Endodontics — Endodontists diagnose and treat diseases and injuries that are specific to the dental nerves and pulp and the tissues that affect the vitality of the teeth.
- Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology — These dental scientists study and research the causes, processes, and effects of diseases with oral manifestations. Most oral pathologists do not treat patients directly. Instead, they provide critical diagnostic and consultative biopsy services to dentists and physicians.
- Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology — Oral radiologists interpret conventional, digital, CT, MRI, and allied imaging modalities of oral-facial structures ad disease.
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery — These specialists provide a broad range of diagnostics services and treatments for diseases, injuries, and defects of the neck, head, jaw, and associated structures.
- Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics — Orthodontists treat irregular dental development, missing teeth, and other abnormalities. Orthodontists establish normal teeth functioning and appearance in their patients.
- Pediatric Dentistry — Pediatric dentists treat both children from birth to adolescence and disabled patients beyond the age of adolescence.
- Periodontics — Periodontists diagnose and treat diseases of the gingival tissue – the gum, oral mucous membranes, and other tissues surrounding the teeth -- and bone supporting the teeth.
- Prosthodontics — Prosthodontists replace missing natural teeth with fixed and removable appliances, such as dentures, bridges, and implants.
Exposure to the Field, Shadowing, and Volunteering
Students should familiarize themselves with the dental field before applying to dental school. This is necessary for both making an informed career decision and completing a successful dental school application (shadowing and volunteering is a requirement for most dental schools). Opportunities can be found via the following resources and elsewhere:
- Your family or local dentist: They are often eager to talk about their career and may be open to providing a shadowing experience.
- American Dental Association (ADA) International Volunteer Website
- ADEA Opportunities for Minority Students in United States Dental Schools