Dental Professionals: Whom Will You Be Working With?

Creative Commons image by University of the Fraser Valley
Creative Commons image by University of the Fraser Valley

If you are considering enrolling in a dental assistant education program, you might be wondering what types of dental professionals you will be working with in the future. You are probably already familiar with your own general dentist, who you go in to see twice per year. As a dental assistant, you might not end up working for a general dentist, however. Here are some of the dental professionals that you may encounter throughout the course of your career in dental assisting:

General Dentists
This is the type of dentist that most of us see on a regular basis. Whether you need a cleaning or have a cavity, this is your guy (or gal). Sort of like the PCP of the dental world, the general dentist is the one who will coordinate the dental care of the patients. As a dental assistant to a general dentist, you’ll get to help with a variety of procedures.

Dental Hygienist
In many dental offices, this is who does the routine teeth cleanings. As a dental assistant, you may occasionally or regularly assist the hygienist. Depending on the duties of dental hygienists in your state or office, you may help with applying sealants or fluoride treatments, or you may get patients ready for the hygienist and take dental xrays.

Dental Receptionist
The dental receptionist is the person at the front desk. He or she typically greets patients, pulls charts (if you’re not in a paper-free office) and asks patients to update their medical histories. Depending on the office, this is often the person contacting dental insurance companies and making sure that each patient is maximizing his or her dental benefits. Other job duties typically include making and confirming appointments and helping patients get in touch with specialists when necessary.

Dental Lab Technician
A dental lab is used to fabricate partial and full dentures, night guards, crowns, bridges and other appliances. A technician is the person who does the work.

The endodontist is a dental specialist who does root canals, also called endodontic therapy. If a general dentist does not feel comfortable doing root canal treatments or if he or she has simply encountered a difficult case, a referral to an endodontist might be warranted.

The periodontist is a dentist specializing in the treatment of periodontal disease. Patients with advanced gum disease may see a periodontist for quarterly cleanings and other procedures.

Oral Surgeon
This is the dental professional who extracts teeth and performs other types of dental surgery. When the treatment is complete, the patient is referred back to the general dentist for continued routine care.

If a patient needs an orthodontic appliance, such as a retainer or braces, he or she will often be referred to an orthodontist.

There are other types of dental specialists as well, including prosthodontists, cosmetic dentists and pediatric dentists. No matter which type of dentist you work for, it’s likely that the office will refer patients out to other offices and specialists, either regularly or on occasion. Learning how to assist in a wide variety of procedures is paramount to your success as a dental assistant.