Factors such as the aging baby boomer population and the increase in the number of people with chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity are driving up demand for health care professionals across all medical industries. One medical profession that is seeing major growth is dentistry. The need for dentists, dental assistants and hygienists is increasing rapidly, and the job market for professionals in these positions is expected to grow an average of 21 percent, between 2012 and 2022, which is much faster than the average growth rate for all other occupations.1
Dentist ranks No. 1
According to U.S. News and World Report’s list of Best Health Care Jobs 2014, dentist ranks No. 1, and out of the 100 Best Jobs 2014 list provided by that source, dentist is ranked at No. 3.2 Most dentists practice at a private office or in a clinical setting, but some can be found at hospitals or outpatient care centers. Dentists rely on dental assistants and hygienists to handle routine tasks like sterilizing equipment and managing patient intake. But dentists are also responsible for cleaning teeth and counseling their patients on proper dental care. Dentists are trained to extract teeth, fill cavities and fit dentures. There are specializations in the field of dentistry as well. Some dental professionals choose to focus their practice on serious oral problems like dental abscesses or gum disease. Other dentists specialize in straightening teeth and performing oral surgery to improve bite or relieve pain. 2
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more dentists will be needed between 2012 and 2022. One factor that contributes to this trend is the fact that the the current baby boom generation is aging, and they are more likely to keep their teeth than previous generations.1 Also, recent studies linking oral health to overall health may be motivating more people to seek out dental care.3
Another factor contributing to the need for more dentists is the popularity of cosmetic procedures such as teeth whitening, which are performed by a dentist.2 Individuals interested in a career in dentistry can expect a comfortable salary, a low unemployment rate and a positive work-life balance, which explains the No. 3 ranking of dentist on the 100 Best Jobs List 2014 published by U.S. World News and Report.2
Dental hygienists see an increase in demand
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment for dental hygienists will grow 33 percent between 2012 to 2022.1 This is much faster than the average growth rate for all other occupations. Because the need for dentists is rising, the demand for supportive staff will increase as well. As dentists’ practices expand, more hygienists will be needed to perform routine dental care, which will allow the dentists to treat more patients.1
Dental hygienists are also usually the first point of contact for patients, and hygienists are often responsible for guiding patients toward proper oral care. Studies proving the overall health benefits of proper dental hygiene will create more of a demand for preventative care, which is typically the responsibility of the hygienist.1 These professionals educate patients on the proper ways to brush and floss teeth, and they offers guidance on the best over-the-counter products to use when doing so, like toothpaste, mouthwash and floss. Hygienists usually remove tartar, stains and plaque during routine visits to the dentist.2
The Bureau of Labor statistics states that federal health legislation is expected to increase the number of patients who have access to health insurance, meaning those patients with new or expanded dental insurance coverage will be more likely to visit a dentist than in the past.1 Because of this, the need for all dental services, especially those performed by hygienists, will increase.
Dental assistants are integral to maintaining oral health
The need for individuals with dental assistant degrees is also expected increase and lead to more job creation in that field. Employment for these practitioners is expected to grow 25 percent between 2012 and 2022.1 Dental assistants play an important role not only in running a dental office, but administering to patients too. They often prepare patients for treatments and teeth cleanings, and sterilize instruments. They also assist dentists during procedures by using suction equipment to clear patients’ mouths and they can be responsible for processing oral X-rays. Dental assistants help maintain patient records, and also can administer fluoride and sealant applications as well as polish teeth and dentures.1
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 74,000 new job openings for dental assistants will appear by 2022.1 That equates to more than 24 percent employment growth, which is much faster than the average for all professions.
Beginning a career in dentistry as a dental assistant is an excellent launching pad to becoming a dental hygienist or dentist. Although the licensing and training are slightly different for each of those positions, the experience an assistant will receive while treating patients, managing records and learning safety procedures will undoubtedly be beneficial for advancing in the field of dentistry.
1 “Healthcare Occupations,” Bureau of Labor Statistics.gov, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm
2 “Best Healthcare Jobs,” U.S. News and World Report, http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/rankings/best-healthcare-jobs
3 “Oral health: A window to your overall health,” Mayo Clinic.org, May 11, 2013, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/adult-health/in-depth/dental/art-20047475