A Career in Dentistry? Part 2
Last week, I wrote an article about a career in dentistry as a result of being asked to take part in a careers evening at Ardgillan Community College. That article was mainly a collection of reflections and thoughts from over a dozen colleagues who had spent many years in dentistry, but they were all dentists. I will write an article later about my own thoughts on a career in dentistry, but today I thought I’d explain that there are many other careers to be had in dentistry other than specifically as a dentist.
There are many parts to a dental team and each of the people on the team has different abilities, skills and interests to the others.
Here is a list of team roles directly involved in providing dental care for a patient. There are also indirect roles like the people who supply us with special dental equipment and instruments and materials. As a general principle, the further you go down the list, the more studying and exams you have to complete and the more responsibility you have to take on board.
- Dental Nurse
- Training on the job or to go through a recognised training programme
- After basic qualifications, a nurse can take on extra qualifications eg using X-Rays or nursing patients who under sedation
- Dental Hygienist (who looks after gum health and patient education)
- Dental Therapist (these are people who carry out specific procedures on patients under the supervision of a dentist – it happens in orthodontics and some other areas of dentistry)
- Dental Technician (they make braces and artificial teeth such as dentures, implants crowns and bridges that people have in their mouth. Sometimes they treat the patients personally but most times, the patients never actually meet them)
- Dentist (more below)^
- Specialist Dentist (more below)*
- Dental Professors/Lecturers/Researchers (they teach dental students, and dentists who are doing postgraduate studies and carry out research into the best way to treat patients)
- Surgeons with Dental and Medical qualifications (these are dentists that go back to university to study medicine, or doctors that go back to university to study dentistry. They are interested in carrying out extremely complicated operations around the face and jaws – particularly in treating cancers or serious injuries or abnormalities in growth.):
- Oral Maxillo Facial
^Dentists work directly with patients, carrying out different kinds of treatments. Some work for the government (HSE in Ireland or NHS in the UK) in hospitals or community dental clinics, some work for big dental corporations that own many dental practices around the country, and some are self employed and work for themselves or in independent practices. Normally the dentist that owns or runs a practice is called “the principal” and the dentists that work with a principal are the “associates”.
*Specialist Dentists are dentists that have gone on to study and pass exams in one area of dentistry so that they can concentrate further in that area. Most dentists will do a variety of different things, but since people have very high expectations of how well their teeth will be looked after and the science and technology of dentistry gets more complicated as time goes on, many dentists will feel that they can’t always provide all of the treatment that a patient might need – particularly if that involves some complicated equipment that they wouldn’t regularly use. In those cases they would send the patient on to a specialist for particular treatment and then the specialist would send the patient back to their regular dentist after that treatment was complete.
In Ireland, there are two recognised dental specialties:
- Oral Surgery
(Since they’re the main specialties at Swords Orthodontics, I’ll talk more about them at the end)
In the UK, there are 13 recognised specialties:
- Oral Surgery
- Endodontics (dealing with root canals and the insides of teeth – which are actually hollow)
- Dental Public Health (deals with government policy to decide on the best way to keep a population dentally healthy)
- Paediatric Dentistry (Children’s dentistry)
- Oral Medicine (treating diseases of the mouth)
- Oral Pathology (diagnosing diseases of the mouth- particularly involves examining samples with microscopes and other special techniques)
- Oral/Maxillofacial Radiology (special knowledge in dealing with X-rays of teeth, jaws and face)
- Oral Microbiology (special knowledge of the viruses and bacteria in the mouth, particularly to deal with infections)
- Restorative Dentistry (repairing damaged or diseased teeth)
- Prosthetic Dentistry (replacing missing teeth, including dentures, implants, crowns, bridges)
- Periodontology (dealing with diseases of the gums and the attachment of the teeth to the jaws)
- Special Care Dentistry (dealing with patients that might need more care and attention than would usually be available in a regular dental practice)
Orthodontics is the area of dentistry that deals with the development of the teeth and jaws to improve their alignment and the way they fit together.
Oral Surgery is the area of dentistry where problems are treated by removing teeth or removing or adjusting abnormal tissue. At Swords Orthodontics, this is done by Dr Marie O’Neill.
At the moment in Ireland there is no legal requirement preventing any dentist from carrying out any form of dentistry, but there is also no legal requirement for a dentist to do further training or exams in most of these specialist areas.
It is up to the dentist to decide if they are “competent” to do so. It is up to a patient to decide if they are happy to have a dentist perform a particular procedure for them. One of the advantages of a well-regulated list of specialists is that a patient would have some reassurance that the dentist performing a particular procedure has not just done extra training but has also been examined to make sure they have a particular extra level of skills and knowledge in the area.