Should I Work for an Orthodontist or a Dentist?
If you are looking to begin a career in dentistry as an assistant, great choice! You have certainly discovered one of the most attractive occupations in the nation. To begin your new career, you should seek opportunities to train and become experienced in the basics of dental healthcare. But, first you may want to decide whether you want to work for an orthodontist or a dentist.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not distinguish between a dental assistant and an orthodontic dental assistant, but the jobs have differences that you should be aware of before beginning your career path. There are variances to take note of, but understanding the experience and training that dentists and orthodontists must have before becoming official practitioners, as well as the similarities between the jobs, can help you understand the real difference between them and aid you in your decision.
Dentistry vs. Orthodontics
Dentists are professionals who practice general dentistry – oral health, hygiene, and the prevention and treatment of oral disease. Their job is to repair cavities and fractures, treat tooth decay and gum disease, as well as instruct patients on the proper ways to care for their smiles. Orthodontists are dentists who decided to specialize in the correction of misaligned teeth and malocclusion (under, over, or cross bites). They have, in addition to completing the general requirements to be a dentist, undergone a 2 to 4-year residency for specialized training in orthodontics.
As a dental assistant, you would assist a dentist in the treatment of teeth and gums to improve hygiene and prevent cavities or disease. An orthodontic dental assistant would assist an orthodontist in correcting the alignment and resting position of patient’s teeth using medical devices such as braces and retainers. You could say that dentists focus more on the health of the tooth and gum tissues in the mouth, while orthodontists focus on the structure of the teeth and jaws.
Now that you know a little bit about dentists and orthodontists, next you should learn about the similarities between the assistants that work for them. In general, you will be assisting your employer with oral health procedures and the maintenance of the work area, as well as performing some clerical duties.
You can expect to prepare the work area for your employer, setting out the equipment they will need for the next patient. You will provide an extra set of hands, pass instruments to the dentist, and use tools such as a suction hose to keep the patient comfortable and make the treatment move smoothly. One of the most important tasks is using your interpersonal skills to keep the patient calm and contented throughout their visit.
After the patient’s appointment, you will then sterilize the work area and may perform some office duties, such as updating the patient’s records, scheduling appointments, or processing financial transactions. Besides general assistance, certified dental assistants may also perform more technical tasks, such as taking casts and molds of teeth or taking photographs using x-ray equipment.
As you can see, orthodontic and dental assistants perform similar tasks, but there is more to consider than just the type of work involved. The goals of each practice, the tools and procedures involved, the income range, the opportunity for growth, and the prerequisites for employment are all important factors that may influence your decision.
Dental Assistant Job Overview
As a dental assistant, you will find yourself sterilizing and preparing tools such as dental drills, excavators, mouth mirrors, and sickle probes before and after appointments, as well as sterilizing the area where the patient received treatment. You will meet, greet, and seat patients, explain the patient’s treatment using a cheerful bedside manner, and answer the patient’s questions should they have any as the dentist prepares for the appointment.
The dentist may have you prepare and apply materials such as topical anesthetics or assist in tasks related to oral surgery. Procedures range from the common tooth whitening to the infamous root canal. A dental assistant should be prepared to provide quick and professional assistance to the dentist or the patient in any dental situation. Dental assistants with certification will have gained the skills and knowledge to confidently assist as the dentist applies crowns, bridges, and fillings, performs tooth extractions, applies sutures to the gums, and much more.
Glassdoor’s website measures the national average salary of dental assistants at $36,562. The lowest percentile netted a rounded $27,000 and the highest netted $48,000. Ranges vary between states and region with higher income in urban areas.
Openings for dental assistants are emerging faster than most jobs in the United States. Employment opportunities will be abundant for assistants in dental healthcare as the number of available jobs grows at a rate of nearly 2% each year. It will be easier for dental assistants with their EFDA Certification and Dental X-Ray Certification to find an employer, get the hours they want, and progress towards better income and promotional advancement.
Employment as a dental assistant provides professional healthcare experience and opens doors for many exciting career paths. Dental assistants often go on to become dental hygienists. Some become dental office managers, dental treatment coordinators, or even choose to advance their career towards medical practices such as occupational therapy or begin training as a registered nurse using the skills and confidence they gained throughout their experience.
Requirements and Training
Dental assistants must complete a state-approved training program to become certified as an Expanded Functions Dental Assistant or certified in the use of x-ray equipment. EFDAs can perform a wider variety of services and provide more assistance to the dentist, making them a more valuable employee and more likely to advance in their career.
Entry-level job requirements will be set in accordance with state laws, but dental assistants in Florida require their EFDA Certification and Dental X-Ray Certification to work with patients. Many technical schools offer 1-2 year programs, but Academy for Dental Assistants uses focused curriculum and hands-on training to have students prepped for a satisfying career in as little as 12-weeks.
Loudoun Dental Associates attests on their website, “The earliest dentist was known as Hesi-Re from Egypt. He lived over 5,000 years ago. The first official female dentist lived in 1866 and her name was Lucy Beaman Hobbs.”
Orthodontic Dental Assistant Job Overview
While dental assistants will become familiar with the strategies dentists use to fight tooth decay, orthodontic assistants will become familiar with the devices orthodontists use to diagnose and treat misaligned teeth. The process is similar – you will sterilize and prepare the instruments and equipment according to regulation. You will also meet, greet, and seat the patient and provide friendly communication before, during, and after the procedure. The difference is in the procedures that orthodontists perform and the equipment they use.
Procedures may include taking casts, molds, photos, or x-rays to assess the layout of the patient’s teeth and apply braces, retainers, or similar corrective devices as needed. Other orthodontic supplies include UV curing lights for attaching brackets to teeth, cheek retractors, and bite sticks, but you don’t need to know any of those terms right now. You can expect to learn them if you choose to become an orthodontic assistant.
Glassdoor’s website measures the national average salary of orthodontic assistants at $32,362, approximately 90% of the average salary for dental assistants. The lowest percentile netted a rounded $23,000 and the highest netted $46,000.
Career prospects for orthodontic assistants are similar to dental assistants. Orthodontic assistants can earn their EFDA Certification and Dental X-Ray Certification (and will likely be required to) in order to increase their versatility and experience as a dental employee. Career paths can progress towards becoming a dental hygienist, a pedodontic dental hygienist (specialist in treatment of children), or even a dental insurance claims processor – the options are abundant! Your opportunities will likely become clear as you gain experience, decide what your specialties are, and discover where your talents and interests lie.
Requirements and Training
Just like a dental assistant, an orthodontic assistant will likely be required to complete an accredited training program before performing the full set of duties allocated to their job title. Becoming certified as an EFDA and receiving x-ray certification will cover all of those duties, allowing you to assist the orthodontist legally and confidently.
Employers will always appreciate an application with a history of hands-on experience. Technical schools provide programs for students who have decided on a career and wish to receive dedicated training to prepare them for their new trade. The training students receive will allow them to build a stronger resume, better their odds at a higher starting wage, and become self-assured and capable in their new job.
Dentists require several additional years of training to specialize in orthodontics. Doctorly.org reports, “Only about six-percent of dentists go on to further training to become an orthodontist.”
Who Should You Work For?
So, who should you work for – a dentist or an orthodontist? Given the facts, it all depends on which job sounds more appealing to you. Dentists focus on oral hygiene while orthodontists correct misalignment. Their assistants have similar routines, but the procedures and equipment will differ greatly. Pay is similar, as well as job prospects and career paths. Both employers utilize x-rays and will likely require you to become certified to perform the full range of assistive duties.
For those in Florida, the Academy for Dental Assistants offers accredited training and certification approved by the Florida Board of Dentistry. Entry-level courses for dental and orthodontic assistants are available for less than the cost of a single semester at community college. Individuals will learn how to work in a real dental/orthodontic office, how to use the latest equipment and techniques, and how to assist their employer with the treatment of patients.
Courses are available now with payment plans for your convenience, so browse our catalog and become acquainted. If you think you are ready to take the next step towards a career in dental healthcare, Academy for Dental Assistants is the path to your dream job. Seats are filling up for both the 12 Week Dental Assistant Training Program and the 6 Week Orthodontic Assistant Training Course.
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