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Careers in Dentistry

Explore Your Options


Need For Dentures Declines, As Dental Health In US Improves
Joe Raedle / Staff / Getty Images
Those who want careers in dentistry have four options from which to choose. You can be a dentist, a dental hygienist, a dental assistant or a dental technician. Educational and licensing requirements differ for each of these careers in dentistry, as do duties and salaries. See the chart below for a quick look at the differences between each of these career choices.


Dentists diagnose and treat problems with their patients' teeth and mouth tissue. Those who want to become dentists must attend dental school, a four year endeavor. Most dental school applicants have a bachelor's degree, although a minimum of only two years of pre-dental education is required. After graduating from dental school, one must be licensed by the state in which he or she wants to practice. A written exam and a practical exam are required. The median annual salary for dentists was $142,090 and median hourly wages of $68.31 in 2009.
Learn More About Becoming a Dentist

Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists, generally working under the supervision of a dentist, provide patients with preventative dental care. To become a dental hygienist one must earn an associate degree from a dental hygiene school. State licensing, which is obtained after taking written and practical exams, is required of those who want to work as dental hygienists. Dental hygienists earned a median annual salary of $67,340 and median hourly wages of $32.38 in 2009.
Learn More About Becoming a Dental Hygienist

Dental Assistant

Dental assistants work alongside dentists, performing some patient care, but not the same tasks dental hygienists are licensed to perform. Dental assistants also perform laboratory and office duties. Dental assistants usually receive their training on-the-job, although some attend dental assisting programs offered by community and junior colleges, trade schools, technical institutes or the Armed Forces. Some states license or register dental assistants. Dental assistants earned a median salary of $33,230 and median hourly wages of $15.98 in 2009.
Learn More About Becoming a Dental Assistant

Dental Technician

Dental technicians manufacture dental prosthetics based on dentists' specifications. They are also called dental laboratory technicians. Many dental technicians receive on-the-job training although many employers prefer to hire job candidates who have received formal training through community colleges, vocational-technical schools and the U.S. Armed Forces. Voluntary certification is offered by The National Board for Certification, an independent board established by the National Association of Dental Laboratories. Dental technicians earned a median annual salary of $34,820 and median hourly wages of $16.74 in 2009.
Learn More About Becoming a Dental Technician

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ and
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online, on the Internet at http://online.onetcenter.org/ (visited February 14, 2011).

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Comparing Careers in Dentistry
 EducationLicenseMedian Salary
DentistDental School (4 years)Required in all states$142,090/yr. or $68.31/hr.
Dental HygienistAssociate DegreeRequired in all states$67,340/yr. or $32.38/hr.
Dental AssistantHS Diploma and On-the-Job TrainingRequired in some states$33,230/yr. or $15.98/hr.
Dental TechnicianHS Diploma and On-the-Job Training or some formal trainingVoluntary certification$34,820/yr. or $16.74/hr.

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