For many of us a visit to the dentist is for preventive care such as a dental checkup or regular teeth cleaning. For some a visit is because of pain or swelling from toothache. Everyday a team of oral health experts helps children, adults, pregnant mothers, older adults, and people with special needs and disabilities, restore, and maintain their oral health.

A dental office team of oral health experts includes a Dentist, Dental Assistant, Dental Hygienist, and a Dental Lab Technician. These oral health specialists use their clinical skills to perform dental tasks such as exams, x-rays, teeth cleanings, oral treatments, creating a dental crown, and more. This group works together to provide patients with a high level of oral health care during their dental visits.

One of the best aspects of a career in oral health is working with people. Personal success comes from providing a valuable health care service while building trusting relationships with patients (ADA). A career in oral health provides plenty of rewards and challenges, as well as an opportunity to help people improve their oral health and make communities healthier places. Read more to learn about careers in oral health.

Careers in Oral Health.

Dentists are doctors who specialize in oral health. Their role includes interpreting a patient’s x-rays and diagnostic tests and creating treatment plans. In addition to examining their patients’ teeth and gums, dentists can also spot early warning signs in the mouth that may indicate disease elsewhere in the body. Dentists also provide oversight of the clinical team to ensure safe and effective oral care.

  • The education curricula for the first two years of dental school is essentially the same as medical school. Students preparing for a career as a dentist must complete biomedical science courses in anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, immunology and pathology. During the second two years, the dental student’s coursework focuses on clinical practice, diagnosing and treating oral diseases. After earning their undergraduate and dental degrees (eight years for most), many dentists continue their education and training:
    • Upon completing their training, dentists must pass both a national written exam and a state or regional clinical licensing exam in order to practice.
    • As a condition of licensure, dentists must meet continuing education requirements for the remainder of their careers. This is to keep dentists up to date on the latest scientific and clinical developments.
  • Dentists can start their dental practice in general dentistry right after dental school. A career as a dentist also offers opportunities in a wide range of clinical, research and academic settings to both new graduates and dentists at any stage of their careers.
  • The average annual salary for a dentist in California is $192,281. (

Dental Hygienist.
This member of the oral health team provides patient screenings, such as an assessment of oral health conditions. The Dental Hygienist may remove calculus and plaque from the patient’s teeth, counsel them about their daily oral hygiene care, and advise on proper nutrition to help maintain strong teeth and healthy gums. The Hygienist may also apply sealants and fluoride to the patient’s teeth.

  • Education and training is completed through a dental program at a community college, tech school or university. The average time for education and training can usually take four (4) years. Two (2) years of prerequisites and two (2) years in an accredited hygiene program. A Dental Hygienist also needs to pass the National Board of Dental Hygiene Exam.
  • There are careers in education, research, public health, and corporate business. Many Dental Hygienists work in dental office settings, along dentists. A Dental Hygienist may also provide oral health instruction in schools and in other community settings.
  • The average annual salary range for a Dental Hygienist in California is between $76,587 and $100,286 (

Dental Assistant.
This key member of the dental team performs many tasks that requires both social and technical skills. The role of a dental assistant may include taking dental x-rays, assisting the dentist during dental procedures, and providing patients with guidance for oral care following surgery or other dental treatment.

  • Education and training is usually completed in nine (9) to eleven (11) months. Dental Assistants receive their education through dental programs at a community college, dental school, tech school, or university. A Dental Assistant can become a Certified Dental Assistant. Being certified assures patients that the Dental Assistant is prepared to provide the best dental care, skillfully.
  • A career in this field has excellent job growth potential. A Dental Assistant can have a career in a single or group dental practice. Dental Assistants can also find careers in a public health setting such as a school or a community clinic.
  • The average annual salary for a Dental Assistant in California is $74,570 (

Dental Lab Technician.
This dental team member collaborates primarily with the dentist. The tech works with a variety of materials, and equipment to create molds, dentures, crowns, and bridges. They often enjoy the reward of creating corrective dental products that help patients with their self-image, ability to chew, and speak clearly.

  • Education and training is completed through a two (2) year program at a community college, dental school, technical college, or university. A Dental Lab Tech can become a Certified Lab Tech by passing an exam that measures their skills and knowledge (ADA).
  • Careers in this field are flexible. Many jobs are in commercial dental labs or in a private practice for techs that like to work closely with a dentist.
  • The average annual salary for a Dental Lab Tech in California is $88,740 (

Learn more about careers in oral health.

Roles of the Oral Health Team-NPDT. Careers in oral health from the Calif. Dental Assoc.

Careers in dentistry. Learn about careers in the field of dentistry from the American Dental Assoc.

Dental schools and programs.

Dental education and careers.  Learn more about dental schools and programs from the ADA.

Schools of Dentistry . See a list of local dental schools and dental hygiene schools providing services.


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