Oral Health Careers

The oral health field is an exciting area of work that offers a range of rewarding professional opportunities. In addition to private practices, dental school graduates can work in universities, hospital emergency rooms, and clinics. They can also conduct research or provide oral healthcare on reservations or as part of international health and relief organizations. Careers also exist in the US Public Health Service and state health departments, along with dental manufacturers and insurance companies.

A trained, competent workforce is critical to ensuring access to quality oral healthcare for all. Students can start exploring the path to an oral health career by learning about the dental school, residency, and program opportunities available here in Rhode Island and in New England.


Dentists restore and maintain oral health by diagnosing and treating diseases, pain, injury, deformity, or physical conditions of the oral and maxillofacial area.

Career Pathway

There are more than 50 dental schools in the United States that are accredited by the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation. Typically, DDS/DMD programs take four years to complete, with an additional years for advanced training in general dentistry or dental specialties, such as pediatric dentistry, oral and maxillofacial surgery or periodontics. All dentists must be licensed by the state in which they practice. more

Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists focus on preventive oral care. They perform cleanings, provide oral hygiene and nutrition counseling, and educate patients on the importance of maintaining their oral health and preventing oral disease. They also take x-rays, examine patients' teeth and gums, and apply fluoride and dental sealants.

Career Pathway

All dental hygienists must be licensed by the state in which they practice. In Rhode Island, license applicants must successfully graduate from a dental hygiene program accredited by the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation, pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, and pass a clinical board examination. Dental hygienists may apply for a permit to administer local anesthesia upon successful course completion and passing the North East Regional Board Local Anesthesia Examination.

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants perform a wide range of duties in the dental office. Specific responsibilities include assisting the dentist with direct patient care, taking and developing x-rays, providing patients with instructions for home care following dental procedures, teaching oral hygiene techniques, performing infection control duties, and managing the office.

Career Pathway

There are a variety of ways to become a dental assistant. Most dental assistants are trained on the job in private dental offices, hospitals, or clinics, but others receive formal education and training through programs at community colleges or vocational/technical institutes.

Dental assistants can become certified by passing the Dental Assisting National Board Certified Dental Assistant examination. Dental assistants are eligible to take this examination if they have completed a dental assisting program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation or have two years of full-time work experience.

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