Dental Careers and the Paths to Get There

The dental field offers a plethora of challenging and rewarding career opportunities, and as more people–including an aging population–begin to recognize the link between oral health and overall health, the future demand for quality, professional dental care will only grow.

For those seeking hands-on patient care experiences, certain dental positions can be highly artistic and creative, such as those in surgical or specialty areas, while dental work places like private practices, corporate companies, and dentist-supported or dentist-owned offices need managerial- and business-minded professionals to help keep operations running smoothly.

Whether you’re just starting out or seeking to advance your career, there is a place for you in the dental field. Here are some of the possibilities and how you can get there.

Administrative Staff

What it is: The administrative staff serves the dental office in a business capacity. These individuals include receptionists, medical billers, patient liaisons and office managers, as well as IT or HR experts, recruiters, accountants, and marketing directors. are in charge of the backend work that controls how an office functions. 

What you’ll do: The administrative staff is responsible for the front- and backend functions of the office, from answering phones, greeting patients, and scheduling appointments to handling payments, managing account services, and providing reports to the managing dentist(s) about the business’ finances or other important details. 

How to get there: A high school diploma or GED equivalent is usually the basic requirement for administrative positions. Some positions, such as medical billing, may require a few years of work experience, and a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as business, accounting, or health care administration, may also be helpful.


Dental Assistant

What it is: A dental assistant works alongside a dentist, providing oral care to patients and assisting the dentist with any needs he or she may have while performing treatments, exams, or procedures.

What you’ll do: The primary role of dental assistants is to prepare patients, equipment, and exam rooms for the dentist and dental hygienist. Tasks include sterilizing tools, ensuring a clean and safe work environment, inventorying supplies, and taking x-rays. They also provide patient education and help answer any questions.

How to get there: Dental assistants usually have to have at least a high school diploma or GED equivalent and complete a dental assisting program through a community college, vocational school, university, technical institute, or dental school, and most programs can take nearly a year to complete.

However, the Dental Depot Academy of Dental Assisting–with locations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa–offers an accelerated, accredited program that can get you started as a registered dental assistant in just 12 weeks. With extensive hands-on training and internship opportunities at our Dental Depot locations, a concentrated curriculum directed by experienced professionals, and a 90%+ post-graduation placement rate, the Dental Depot Academy of Dental Assisting prepares you for a rewarding and successful career in the dental field at a fraction of the cost and time commitment of other programs.

The Dental Depot Academy of Dental Assisting offers courses three times a year, with application deadlines a month prior to the program start. The application deadline for the Spring 2024 semester is December 6, 2023. 


Dental Hygienist

What it is: Dental hygienists provide preventative dental care for patients, such as routine cleanings, x-rays, and fluoride treatments. They are required to work under a licensed dentist.

What you’ll do: When people visit the dentist for regular checkups and cleanings, the dental hygienist is the person with whom they spend the most time. In addition to polishing and removing plaque from the teeth and flossing, dental hygienists educate patients on good oral hygiene practice and review and maintain their health records. In some states, dental hygienists may also perform additional duties like administering anesthesia during minor procedures or removing stitches.

How to get there: To work as a dental hygienist, you must have a high school diploma or GED equivalent as well as a dental hygiene degree from an accredited university or college. Whether it is an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree will often depend on which state you are working in. 

Dental hygienists also need to be comfortable working in people’s mouths and have the fine motor control to use specialized tools such as scalers. 


Dental Lab Tech

What it is: Dental lab technicians–or dental technicians–manufacture dental prosthetics, devices, and appliances for helping patients restore proper function and aesthetics of the mouth and teeth.

What they do: Dental techs combine art, science, and technology to design and manufacture dental devices like crowns, bridges, dentures, aligners, custom mouthguards, and retainers, essentially working behind the scenes to create the tools necessary for a dentist or specialist to implement a treatment plan.

How to get there: Dental lab techs need a high school diploma or equivalent, but most of the skills needed for dental technology can be learned on the job. Some dental lab techs pursue postsecondary programs in dental laboratory technology from a vocational or technical school or a community college, earning an associate’s degree or postsecondary certification. 


General Dentist

What it is: A general dentist diagnoses and treats diseases and conditions that affect the mouth and oral cavity, including the gums, teeth, and tongue.

What they do: General dentists have deep knowledge of mouth structures and can perform more in-depth tasks than hygienists, including fillings, root canals, and dental implants. They conduct routine oral exams, analyze x-rays, and assess oral health to diagnose problems and develop treatment plans. They also perform restorative or cosmetic procedures, like filling cavities, placing crowns, professional teeth whitening, and teeth extractions.

How to get there: Dentists must earn a bachelor’s degree, then graduate from an accredited dental school, which takes four years for a full-time program. Following the successful completion of dental school, dentists must also pass a clinical and written exam to obtain a license, which is required in all states. 



What it is: Periodontists are general dentists who have specialized in the bones, gums, and ligaments surrounding the teeth as opposed to the teeth themselves. 

What they do: Periodontists treat patients who have advanced gum disease and other issues that may be more complex or extensive than what a general dentist can handle in their everyday office. They may provide preventative care like deep cleanings, perform tissue reductions or grafts, and develop surgical and nonsurgical treatment plans for gum disease. Periodontists are also a common referral for dental implant surgery.

How to get there: After completing dental school, periodontists then must complete a residency program focused on gum diseases and problems and obtain a current licensure.



What it is: A dentist who specializes in the dental pulp, the collection of nerves, tissue, and blood vessels inside the tooth. 

What they do: Endodontists perform more root canals more frequently than a general dentist. (A root canal is a procedure to treat dental pulp that has become infected.) They are also often referred to by general dentists for more complicated surgeries like apicoectomies, which approach a tooth from the base of the root rather than the visible surface.

Education or experience requirements: In addition to a steady hand and careful attention to detail, endodontists must also complete to secure their specialization.



What it is: Orthodontists are dental specialists that focus on straightening and realigning the teeth and jaws into the proper occlusion.

What they do: Orthodontists use appliances like braces, retainers, and aligners to treat anomalies in the oral cavity and misalignment of the teeth. They examine and analyze x-ray images of the teeth, coordinate for custom-made dental appliances, and plan, implement, and supervise treatment plans.

How to get there: Like general dentists and other specialties, orthodontists must earn a bachelor’s degree and graduate from an accredited dental school, after which they must earn a certification in orthodontics, which typically takes an additional three years. They must also be licensed.


Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon

What it is: An oral and maxillofacial surgeon performs surgical procedures on the hard and soft tissues of the maxillofacial and oral areas, including the jaw, mouth, and facial structure.

What they do: Oral and maxillofacial surgeons perform a multitude of tasks to help maintain or restore oral health, form, and function, such as evaluating x-rays to determine the position of wisdom teeth or other teeth for surgical removal, preparing the mouth for dental implants, and treating emergency injuries. They also consult on and perform complex procedures like dental implants, jaw and alignment corrections, and facial reconstructions. 

How to get there: After completing the requirements of a general dentist, oral and maxillofacial surgeons must then complete four to six years of post-graduate residency training, which involves earning a medical degree and receiving the necessary training and experience for performing surgery. They must hold a current license and have the option to become board-certified by the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (ABOMS).


Start Your Career in Dentistry Today with Dental Depot in Oklahoma

Dental Depot is a DSO of more than 30 locations throughout Oklahoma and Arizona, as well as the DFW and Kansas City metro areas, all partner-owned and operated by doctors deeply committed to a supportive, collaborative work environment where everyone at every level can succeed. Our distinctive business model gives all our employees the autonomy, flexibility, and opportunity to focus, flourish, and grow, and we’re a great place to build the foundation for a rewarding career in dentistry. That’s why we’re consistently ranked as one of the top local companies to work for.

Dental Depot also offers a unique pathway to employment through the Dental Depot Academy of Dental Assisting, an accredited program with locations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. In addition to an accelerated, comprehensive curriculum taught by experienced and certified instructors in state-of-the-art facilities, the Dental Depot Academy of Dental Assisting also provides students with the opportunity to complete their clinical rotation hours in-house at our Dental Depot locations with real patients and alongside our own knowledgeable doctors. And, with competitive costs and a post-graduation placement rate of over 90%, the Dental Depot Academy of Dental Assisting makes it easy to begin your career in dentistry without the time or financial commitment of other programs.

The demand for quality dental professionals isn’t going anywhere, but why wait? Check out Dental Depot’s employment opportunities here, or apply to the Dental Depot Academy of Dental Assisting and get started today!

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