The present dental practitioners in Australia are highly sophisticated health experts who provide an extensive variety of oral healthcare services that contribute to the general wellbeing and quality of their patients’ lives. They are at the forefront of new developments in dental implants, computer-generated imaging and aesthetic and cosmetic treatments.
Dental specialists play a big role in the early detection of oral cancer and systemic conditions that manifest in the mouth. They can likewise serve as first responders in the event of a large-scale health emergency. Also, the advances in dental research, including the discovery of links between oral and systemic diseases, genetic engineering, development of salivary diagnostics and the continued development and improvement of new materials and techniques make dentistry an exciting, challenging and rewarding profession. When students think about a career in dentistry, the first thing that comes to mind is the dentist. However, the field of dentistry offers various career options apart from dentists such as dental technicians, dental hygienists, dental therapists and dental nurses at multiple educational and professional levels. The roles and responsibilities differ significantly from one another as do their licensing requirement.
Below is a detailed overview of several career opportunities in the field of oral healthcare.
Dental Technicians – Dental laboratory technicians is a mid-level dental career that students can pursue. Dental technicians manufacture dental prosthetics, such as bridges, crowns and dentures and other appliances according to the specification sent by the dentist. They are not directly involved in patient care but help dentists provide better care. Dental technology has 4 major disciplines: fixed prosthesis, removable prosthesis, maxillofacial prosthesis, and orthodontics and auxiliaries. In order to become a dental technician, students need to enrol for dental technology courses such as Diploma in Dental Technology, a foundation degree in dentistry or an Advanced Diploma of Dental Prosthetics. Dental technicians typically require less training than a dentist, however, that doesn’t mean that potential for career progression is limited. Most dental technicians receive on-job training from laboratories that manufacture dental appliances. They begin their careers as helpers and are given more complex tasks as they gain experience. This training allows them to take on more responsibilities and increase their salary.
Dental Hygienists – Dental hygienists assist dental practitioners in oral care check-ups and teeth cleaning services. They use a variety of tools to remove plaque, tartar and stains from teeth, administer fluoride treatments and assist with x-raying patient’s mouths. Dental hygienists help educate patients and advise them on brushing techniques and preventative care such as flossing as well as general oral hygiene. To become a qualified dental hygienist and achieve a dental career, students need to gain a tertiary level qualification with the minimum standard being a 2-year Advanced Diploma of Oral Health in Dental Hygiene.
Dental Assistants – Dental assistants sometimes know as dental nurses or dental chair-side assistants are the key members of the dental healthcare team. They work with dentists and other members of the oral health team to deliver high-quality dental care in dental offices. They help dentists with various tasks like sterilizing instruments and equipment, taking and developing dental x-rays, taking impressions of patients’ teeth, and scheduling appointments. Furthermore, they prepare and guide patients throughout their procedures. Dental assisting offers excellent career opportunities for the high school student, high school graduate, overseas qualified nurses, those seeking a career change and those re-entering the workforce. In order to become a dental assistant or Registered Dental Assistant students need to graduate from an accredited program and pass a state exam. Overseas nurses need to undertake bridging courses for overseas nurses in order to be registered.
- Doctorate Level
General Dentists – The position of a general dentist is comparable to that of a primary care doctor in medicine. General dentists carry out dental and oral health care prevention and maintenance services like cleaning teeth, fluoride treatments, cavity fillings and root canals. General dentist may also treat diseases of nerve, pulp and other dental tissues affecting oral hygiene and retention of teeth. In order to become a dentist, students are expected to spend at least six years of study course from an accredited dental school. If students wish to further specialise, they will need to take up another two-year dental diploma course from a dental school.
Orthodontists – Orthodontists specialise in the treatment of people who have issues related to the alignment of their teeth and jaws. They use different methods and oral appliances to straighten and realign crooked or misaligned teeth. Braces, retainers and other devices are used to help correct patient’s teeth. They generally work in private practices with clients of all ages but do often have a particular focus on children and young people. This is because they are growing and their teeth are easier to move, adult patients do consult an orthodontist, too. To work as orthodontists in Australia students need to have a dental degree, clinical experience as well as postgraduate qualifications.
Periodontists – Periodontists specialise in the care of the supporting structures of teeth, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of periodontal (gum) disease and in the placement and maintenance of dental implants. Periodontists are experts in the treatment of all forms of periodontal disease, including gingivitis, periodontitis, and gingival recession. Periodontal diseases are usually a result of bacterial accumulation and inflammation. To become a periodontist, one has to undergo extensive post-graduate training in Periodontics and is registered by the Dental Board of Australia and obtain three years or more postdoctoral certificate.
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon – An oral and maxillofacial surgeon deals with conditions affecting the mouth, teeth, jaws, and face, providing a range of procedures for their patients including removal of problematic wisdom teeth, jaw realignment, and reconstructive surgery following facial trauma. Some surgeons also specialise in microvascular reconstruction (after neck and head cancer), craniofacial surgery and pediatric maxillofacial surgery (cleft lip and palate repair) or cranio-maxillofacial trauma treatment. To become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, one has to complete a minimum of four years in a hospital-based residency program upon graduation from dental school encompassing a comprehensive training program.
Cosmetic Dentists – Cosmetic dentists focus on aesthetic dentistry, which is aimed at improving the appearance rather than the patient’s health. They normally treat aesthetic issues surrounding a patient’s teeth, gums and bite. Common cosmetic dentistry procedures include teeth whitening, dental veneers, composite bonding of teeth and implants. Cosmetic dentists normally practice as general dentists.
- Administrative Level
Office Manager – A dental office manager is responsible for all daily operations of the dental clinic. They manage staff schedules, train office staff, assess staff performance, oversee finances, monitor inventory and order supplies and handle payroll. The office manager works closely with the dentist and other staff ensuring that the dental office runs smoothly so that the dentist and their staff can focus on patient care. There are no formal educational requirements for the office manager, although employers usually demand a high school diploma, a dental certificate which provides training in dental health safety, medical terminology, bookkeeping, medical and dental billing codes and office technology or associate degree and dental office experience.
Dental Secretary – For those who want to perform administrative work in a dental office but are not interested in a management position, becoming a dental secretary is a possible career option. Medical secretaries, including those who work in dental practices, schedule patient appointments, prepare insurance claims, manage patient records and transcribe medical dictation from the doctor. Most secretaries may only need a high school diploma to find a position, but courses in medical terminology and billing practices help them gain more opportunities and increase their salary.
So, these are some of the career choices students can make in the field of oral healthcare.