The average dental practice may offer a wide range of career opportunities, aside from dentists, whether your interest is in administrative, patient care, or laboratory duties. Similar to medical assistants, dental assistants may bridge the gap between direct patient care--providing oral care, taking x-rays, sterilizing instruments--and administration, such as working with insurance companies or maintaining patient records. Training generally may take between 9 and 11 months.
However, if the hands-on aspects of patient care greatly appeal to you, dental hygienists work with dentists in much the same way as nurses work with physicians. They clean teeth, perform x-rays, administer anesthesia (depending on state requirements), apply sealants to teeth, or make dental impressions. Because of their high degree of patient care, many dental hygienists may even perform basic preventative dentistry, in lieu of dentists, in certain situations--for instance, in rural communities that lack dentists. Dental hygiene may require about two years of schooling.
If it's the science of dentistry that you like, but don't want to attend dental school and become a dentist, you could pursue two years of schooling to work as a dental laboratory technician. With very little patient interaction, this job may put you in direct contact with sophisticated technology, using dental impressions to create prostheses (false teeth), crowns, or orthodontic appliances.
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