Dentistry offers a variety of careers which are discussed below and in the Healthcare Careers CODE BLUE notebook, available in your school guidance office and library in the twelve counties our program covers in the Piedmont Triad Region of North Carolina.




As their name indicates, dental assistants assist dentists. They perform a variety of tasks during patient examinations and treatments. These tasks range from patient care to office and laboratory duties. The general duties of dental assistants include the following:

  1. Obtaining dental records and histories
  2. Preparing the patient for treatment
  3. Providing the dentist with proper instruments during treatment procedures
  4. Keeping the patient’s mouth dry and clean by using suction or other devices
  5. Polishing teeth
  6. Instructing patients regarding postoperative and general oral health care
  7. Preparing tray setups for dental procedures
  8. Sterilizing and disinfecting instruments and equipment
  9. Maintaining proper infection control to protect patients and staff

Dental assistants also may prepare materials for making impressions and restorations, expose radiographs, and process dental x-rays as directed by the dentist. Other responsibilities can include removing sutures, applying anesthetics to gums or cavity preventive agents to teeth, removing excess cement used in the filling process, and placing rubber dams on teeth to isolate them for individual treatment.

Laboratory duties can include making casts of the teeth and mouth from impressions taken by the dentist, cleaning and polishing removable appliances, and making temporary crowns.

Office duties, if part of the dental assistant’s job description, include scheduling and confirming appointments, ordering supplies, greeting patients, keeping patient records, and billing and collecting payment for services rendered.

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Dental hygienists help patients develop and maintain good oral health. Their focus is on cleaning the teeth and encouraging patients to adopt habits that will prevent decay and disease.

General responsibilities of the dental hygienist include the following:

  1. Examining the patient’s teeth and gums
  2. Recording the presence of diseases or abnormalities
  3. Taking and developing dental x-rays
  4. Removing stains and soft and hard deposits from the teeth
  5. Cleaning and polishing the teeth
  6. Applying fluoride and sealants to teeth
  7. Educating the patient regarding brushing, flossing, and other means to good dental health

Some states allow dental hygienists to administer anesthetics; place and carve filling materials, temporary fillings, and periodontal dressing; remove sutures; and smooth and polish metal restorations. They may prepare clinical and laboratory diagnostic tests which are interpreted by the dentist. The hygienists also discuss how diet, medications, and diseases such as diabetes can affect dental health and impact procedures.

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Dental laboratory technicians are the artists of the dental field. They use their creative talents to produce dental appliance such as dentures, dental crowns, bridges, implants, and braces. In some laboratories one technician performs all stages of this precise and detailed work; in other labs, the creation process may be divided among different team members. The creative process begins with a prescription from a dentist for the item to be fabricated along with an impression of the patient’s mouth or teeth. The process then moves through the following developmental stages:

  1. The technician pours plaster into the impression, or mold, and lets it set to create a model of the patient’s mouth.
  2. The model is placed on an apparatus that mimics bite and movement of the jaw.
  3. After studying the model, the technician builds and shapes a wax tooth or teeth model, utilizing special spatulas and carvers.
  4. The wax model is used to cast the metal framework for the prosthetic device.
  5. After the wax model has been formed, the technician pours the cast, forms the metal, and prepares the surface to allow the metal and porcelain to bond.
  6. Porcelain is applied in layers and the precise shape and color of the tooth or teeth is reproduced.
  7. The result is then baked onto the metal framework in a porcelain furnace; the color and shape are adjusted; additional grinding creates a smooth finish; additional porcelain seals the tooth; and the final product is an almost exact match to the lost tooth or teeth.

Dental laboratory technicians can specialize in orthodontic appliances, crowns and bridges, complete dentures, partial dentures, or dental ceramics.

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Dental assistants and dental hygienists usually work with dentists in private or group practice or in specialty practices such as pediatric dentistry or periodontics. They often work in hospitals, especially teaching institutions, and in public health clinics. Dental laboratory technicians generally work in well-ventilated, well-equipped laboratories. Part-time employment and flexible schedules are often available.


Dental assistants and dental hygienists are projected to be among the fastest-growing occupations over the next decade due to population growth and increased awareness of the importance of regular dental care. Job opportunities for dental laboratory technicians are favorable as well with greater growth expected for technicians who specialize in bridges or crowns rather than full dentures, which are becoming less common as more people adopt preventive dental care.