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Dentistry is a field of medicine that deals with teeth and the tissues of the mouth. Dentists examine the oral cavity, help patients prevent against disease and poor oral health, and diagnose issues and diseases that affect the inside of the mouth. Dentists should have an interest in patient health and also possess strong communication skills, as they will be interacting with patients on a daily basis. Dentists should also be prepared for a long educational process, as they must complete dental school, which they usually attend after first earning a bachelor’s degree.
Classes and Assignments of a Dentistry Major
At the beginning of their education, dentistry majors study biology, physiology, anatomy, and other related topics. Eventually, their course work narrows down to the field of oral health. Students will then learn about the properties of teeth, the health problems that affect oral tissue and teeth, and the ways in which poor health, poor hygiene, and dental diseases can be diagnosed and treated. The most useful college degrees will require students to spend time in a laboratory and will also have them treat patients under the supervision of a licensed dentist. Dentists have the option of choosing a specialization in fields like maxillofacial surgery and orthodontics. Licensure is required for all dentists, which they can gain after completing dental school and passing written and practical exams.
Degree Levels for a Dentist Major
- Associate. Students cannot become a licensed dentist with just an associate degree. But as an alternative, students can major in health or dental assisting at this degree level to set a foundation upon which they can build their future educational endeavors, such as becoming a dental assistant or even going on to earn a bachelor's degree in the field.
- Bachelor's. At the bachelor’s degree level, students are encouraged to take pre-dentistry classes, which usually involve biology, chemistry, and other science course work. These will be balanced with the general education curriculum. This is the most common degree students earn to prepare them for dental school.
- Master's. It is more common for students to pursue dental school after earning a bachelor’s degree than pursuing a master’s degree. However, students can choose to earn a master’s degree in dental hygiene to become dental hygienists. Courses at this degree level are typically much more in-depth than at the bachelor's degree level, allowing students to gain a fuller understanding of oral health.
- Doctoral. At the doctoral degree level, students study dentistry and practice in laboratories. They also fulfill degree requirements by spending a residency period under a licensed dentist. The best degrees combine the study of dentistry with practical application. Graduates with a doctoral degree in the field are typically eligible to teach at the college level as well.
A Future as a Dentistry Major
The most common career path for a dentistry major is that of a dentist. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, dentists earn a median annual salary of $142,870. Job prospects for dentists should be good, with faster than average job growth. As an alternative, dentistry majors can become dental hygienists or dental assistants, or specialize in orthodontics, endodontics, and even pediatric dentistry. However, keep in mind that dentist job availability depends on location. Dentist salaries are affected by location as well, and can also vary depending on the employer and experience.