Make a Difference — Become a DentistBy: Joyce Kahng, DDS •June 29, 2023
Becoming a dentist is a career choice that offers numerous opportunities for personal and professional growth. It is a field that combines the art and science of oral healthcare, providing individuals with a rewarding and fulfilling profession that truly benefits the lives of others. If you are considering a career in dentistry, here’s an insider’s perspective on what it is truly like to be a dentist.
Dentistry is a highly specialized field that requires extensive education and training beyond traditional college degrees. After completing a 4-year bachelor’s degree, aspiring dentists must also attend a four-year dental school program. During this time, students gain a comprehensive understanding of the structure and function of the oral cavity, as well as the various dental procedures and techniques. If they choose to specialize and become experts in fields like pediatrics, periodontics, oral surgery, prosthodontics, orthodontics, etc., an additional 2-3 years of training is required.
The curriculum in dental school includes both classroom lectures and hands-on clinical experiences. Dental students learn how to diagnose and treat various dental conditions, perform surgical procedures, and repair smiles through restorative techniques. The training also emphasizes the importance of preventive care and patient education, as well as oral-systemic health and how it’s linked together.
Being a dentist comes with its fair share of challenges, but the rewards are equally substantial. One of the main challenges dentists face is managing patient anxiety and fear. Dental phobia is a common occurrence, and dentists must develop effective communication skills (and behavioral techniques) to alleviate patient concerns and provide a comfortable experience.
Another challenge is the constant need to stay updated with advancements in dental technology and methods. Dentistry is a dynamic field, and new research and developments constantly arise or change over time. Dentists must invest time and effort into continuing education to provide the best possible care to their patients.
There is also the added challenge of running a business. Owning a dental office means hiring and paying staff, managing inventory, and navigating insurance policies. With the right staff by your side, you can help care for others while also running a successful practice.
Despite these challenges, being a dentist brings numerous rewards. Dentists have the opportunity to improve the oral health and overall well-being of their patients. The satisfaction of relieving someone’s dental pain or embarrassment, restoring their smile, or helping them achieve better self-esteem is immeasurable. The dentist-patient relationship often becomes long-lasting and deeply meaningful.
Dentistry offers a wide range of specializations to suit various interests and career goals. Some dentists choose to offer care beyond family or general dentistry, specializing in areas such as orthodontics, oral surgery, endodontics, periodontics, or pediatrics.
While specialization requires additional commitment and dedication, it can bring immense professional satisfaction. Dentists who choose to specialize can offer highly advanced care, address complex cases, and contribute to the advancement of their respective fields through research and innovation. Some of the most prominent dentistry specializations include:
Orthodontists focus on diagnosing and treating misaligned teeth and facial structures. They use braces, aligners, and other orthodontic appliances to straighten teeth and improve oral function, growth concerns, and aesthetics.
Oral surgeons specialize in surgical procedures related to the mouth, jaw, and face. They perform complex extractions, dental implant placement, sinus lifts, corrective jaw surgery, and treatment for facial trauma.
Endodontists specialize in treatments such as root canal therapy, involving the nerves inside of teeth. They perform complex endodontic procedures to save teeth from extraction.
Periodontists specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of gum diseases. They perform procedures such as scaling and root planing, gum grafting, bone augmentation, and dental implant placement.
Pediatric dentists focus on providing dental care to infants, children, and adolescents. They have specialized knowledge in child psychology, behavior management, and treating dental issues specific to younger patients and their developing oral anatomy.
Prosthodontists specialize in the restoration and replacement of missing teeth. They design and create dental prostheses such as crowns, bridges, dentures, and implant-supported restorations.
One of the appealing aspects of dentistry is the level of independence it offers. Many dentists have the option to work in private practice, where they can establish their own clinic and make independent decisions regarding patient care. This autonomy allows dentists to create a practice environment that aligns with their values and professional goals.
Dentists also have the flexibility to choose their hours, enabling a better work-life balance. While some may prefer to work traditional schedules, others may opt for part-time or flexible hours to accommodate personal commitments or pursue other interests.
As I mentioned earlier, dentistry is a constantly evolving field. To stay at the forefront of their profession, dentists are required to commit to lifelong learning through continuing education and professional development courses. This involves attending conferences, seminars, and workshops to learn about the latest advancements in techniques, materials, and treatment modalities. Most states actually require a certain number of hours, at minimum, or continuing education.
These courses not only enhances dentists’ knowledge and skills but also allow them to network with other dental professionals and exchange ideas. It opens doors to collaboration and keeps dentists motivated and engaged in their profession.
Dentists play a vital role in improving the health and quality of life for people in their community. By providing preventive care, early intervention, and education, dentists help reduce the prevalence of oral diseases and improving overall health in their neighborhoods. They also address aesthetic concerns, helping patients regain their confidence and self-esteem.
In addition to direct patient care, dentists can also get involved in community outreach programs, volunteer work, or advocacy organizations. These activities allow dentists to make a broader impact and give back to others.
Becoming a dentist is a challenging yet incredibly rewarding career choice. It requires dedication, continuous learning, and a genuine passion for others. Dentistry offers diverse opportunities for specialization, autonomy, and work flexibility. As a dentist, you have the privilege of improving people’s oral health and self-confidence. If you are considering a career in dentistry, rest assured that it is a profession that offers personal fulfillment and the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of others.
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