What is dentistry?
Dentists treat problems with patients' teeth, gums and mouths. Dentists specialise in oral surgery and oral disease; they also do cosmetic work, improving the appearance of patients’ smiles. Becoming a dentist takes a lot of training. Dental workers have some of the highest rates of job satisfaction of any profession, and dentistry can be rewarding financially.
Like doctors, dentists’ services are always in demand and with increasing numbers of people wanting cosmetic dentistry, there are plenty of jobs in the sector.
Dentists often work as contractors to public or private health providers (or both) and normally head a team including dental hygienists, whose job it is to take care of patients' teeth through cleaning and other treatments. Dentists also work with dental assistants who take care of record keeping and support the dentist while they work on their patient.
What do you learn with a dentistry degree?
There is a lot of training required for a career in dentistry and universities offering courses in the subject expect their students to commit for up to five years if they want to move into professional practice. The first year of most undergraduate courses will give the student a grounding in anatomy, physiology and biochemistry and teaching takes the form of lectures, seminars and practical sessions.
In the second year, teaching will begin to specialise with students typically studying modules in oral biology, pharmacology and radiography.
Depending on the university, you may start treating patients at the end of your second year or the beginning of your third. From the third year the focus shifts towards practical application and learning on the job, working in real clinics and hospitals with professionals. At the same time you will continue to study modules on, for example, child dental health, clinical pathology or human disease.
In the latter part of your studies you will have the chance to observe specialists at work and potentially pursue your own specialism. This is also where you get the chance to learn more advanced techniques like bridgework design, dental implants and inlays. In the final year students will be working with the public regularly and will get the chance to observe consultants at work performing complex oral surgery and special care dentistry techniques.
What should I study at high school if I want to do a dentistry degree?
Universities will expect you to have a strong grounding in science and maths. Universities expect applicants to have good grades in chemistry and biology and look favourably on physics and maths qualifications too. Some universities offer a pre-entry course for those who don’t have these qualifications. After qualifying you will need to register with the relevant professional body to practice as a dentist.
Important skills for dentists include steady hands, good concentration and stamina. It is also important that they have good bedside manner and are able to put patients at their ease. Running your own dental practice also requires good organisational and record keeping skills and the ability to delegate and lead a team.
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What do people who studied dentistry do after graduation?
Most dentists (in the UK, at least) work as self-employed contractors offering services to the NHS and/or to private clients. Many graduates join a dental practice as an assistant or as a self-employed associate. Dental practices vary in size from single-practitioner operations to large providers with several sites and several dentist-associates working for them.
Other newly qualified dentists will go to work in hospitals, often specialising in a certain field like paediatric dentistry; they usually receive a salary from the hospital for this work. Some dentists work in the community visiting residential care homes or working out of mobile clinics which visit remote areas. Dentists are well paid and it is not unusual for established practitioners to make a comfortable six-figure sum in Europe or the United Sates, especially those running their own private practice.
Which famous people studied dentistry?
While dentists have a reputation for being mild-mannered professionals there are a few famous exceptions. Doc Holliday, the famous Wild West gunfighter and gambler, had also been a practising dentist. Holliday was good friends with famous lawman Wyatt Earp, and took part in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.