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General Dentists

General dentists provide preventative care.

General Dentists

General dentists primarily provide preventative care, treat problems with oral health and improve the appearance of teeth. They frequently participate in community programs that educate the public about the importance of oral health. According to the American Dental Association, (ADA), new medical technologies and research, such as gene therapy and postnatal stem cell research, may actually reshape the dentistry field this century. Before a general dentist can get to work, he or she must have years of education and training as well as the right qualifications and skills. Fortunately, dentists can reap the rewards of ample prospective jobs and a high salary once they are ready.

Services Dentists Provide

The idea that dentists simply fill teeth is certainly not valid in today's world. Dentists are considered to be health professionals. It is a dentists job to provide information on how to brush, floss and use fluoride as well as offer instruction on diet and how it relates to a patients oral health. Dentists help prevent tooth decay and periodontal disease. They treat disorders that may cause pain, improper digestion, altered facial appearance or abnormal speech. Even more important is the role that dentists play in the detection of oral cancer or other systemic conditions that affect a persons overall health.

General dentists commonly focus on three primary areas: diagnosis and treatment, surgical restoration, and cosmetic improvement. The most elementary and common aspect of a dentists career is the diagnosis and treatment of conditions that affect the teeth, gums, tongue, jaws and lips. Dentists commonly use lasers, radiography and a variety of new materials to fix problems. Whether from disease or an accident, dentists regularly perform surgical restoration on the teeth and gums. Common work includes fitting implants, grafting tissue and performing trauma surgery. Finally, dentists simply make people feel good about their appearances and smiles through teeth whitening and other cosmetic improvements.

Dentist Education and Training

High school students who are interested in becoming general dentists need to start early on their career paths. All students should prepare by taking biology, chemistry, algebra and advanced placement science courses. Once in college, those students typically need to take a required number of hours in specific courses to gain admittance to dental school. The required courses usually include eight hours of English, eight hours of physics, eight hours of both general and organic chemistry (plus labs), and eight hours of biology with lab.

All students must take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT) in order to gain entry to a dental school. Information about the DAT is available on the ADA Web site.

After admittance to dental school, students must take four years of coursework. Basic classes include physiology, biochemistry, anatomy, microbiology, histology and pharmacology, with emphasis on the dental aspects of each subject. It's also important for dental school students to hone communication skills and business management practices. During the final two years of dental school, students gain real-life experience. They treat real patients while being supervised by licensed members of the dental school faculty. Typically, work occurs in hospitals, community clinics and outpatient clinics. Upon graduation, students are either given a doctor of dental medicine degree or a doctor of dental surgery degree.

For general dentists, postdoctoral education is not a requirement. However, advanced schooling in the field and general practice residencies are available. Participating in further study may offer more career opportunities and the ability to provide a greater depth of services to patients. Postdoctoral programs are commonly one year in length.

Dentist Qualifications and Skills

Each of the United States, and the District of Columbia, requires dentists to have a license. In order to achieve licensure, dentists have graduated from an ADA-accredited dental school in the United States. They also must pass both practical and written exams.

Other than licensure, there are additional qualifications that make a candidate a good dentist. In order to do their jobs, general dentists are expected to have an accurate judgment of shape and space, and manual dexterity as well as a good visual memory. It is also important for dentists to have computer skills, self-discipline and excellent communication abilities, in addition to the obvious knowledge of science.

Dentist Job Prospects and Salary

According to the American Dental Education Association, the need for general dentists remains strong because of the push across the country for improved access to oral care and general health care. In addition, members of the baby boomer generation will need maintenance on any existing work and will need preventive services. Also, many dentists will retire in the next two decades, making new general dentists more of a necessity.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average income for a dentist is almost $137,000 per year. In fact, the average net income for dentists has increased by more than 96 percent since 1990, and the average income for a dentist is in the highest 5 percent of salaries.

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