University Dental Courses Available Online

Oral hygiene is key to your overall health. But you can’t do it by yourself – as soon as you finish teething, you need professional cleanings, examinations, and possible surgery to remove or straighten your teeth. Dentists, and their team of dental hygienists and assistants, learn the trade through dental courses or on-the-job training.

Dental assistants, who help with patient care and office duties, don’t require any formal education, while dental hygienists usually need to earn an associate degree or certificate, and dentists must attend an accredited dental school, which usually requires a bachelor’s degree before entering and two years of college-level predental education, including biology, chemistry, physics, health, and mathematics. In dental school, students can expect to continue to take a science-heavy course load, which includes anatomy, microbiology, biochemistry, and physiology, as well as two years of clinical experience under a supervisor.

For students interested in taking dental courses online, distance learning can provide a flexible alternative if you’re busy with work or family obligations or don’t have a program nearby. Aspiring dental hygienists can find programs that are offered completely online that would then make them eligible to take any national, regional, or state examinations that they are required to pass to practice. Dentists, on the other hand, can expect to spend the majority of their education in school, though online courses are common options for continuing education, which is needed to maintain licensure.

When applying to either dental or dental hygienist programs, make sure they are through an accredited school. Often, credentials such as certification or licensure require a degree from an accredited institution. The Commission on Dental Accreditation develops accreditation standards for dental programs, and you can find a list of accredited dental programs on the American Dental Association’s website.

Dental and Your Career

Dental programs teach students all manners of dental care, including how to examine and treat teeth, remove tooth decay, fill cavities, extract teeth, straighten teeth, and perform corrective surgery on gums. There are nine types of dental specialists these programs train: orthodontists, who straighten teeth; oral and maxillofacial surgeons, who operate on the mouth, jaws, teeth, and gums; pediatric dentists, focusing on children; periodontists, who treat gums and bones; prosthodontists, who replace missing teeth; endodontists, who perform root-canal surgery; oral pathologists, who diagnose oral diseases; oral and maxillofacial radiologists, who diagnose diseases in the head and neck; and dental public health specialists, who work to promote good dental health in their community.

Regardless of specialty, all 50 states require licensure to practice as a dentist, and most states require a license for dental hygienists, too. The exact requirements vary by state, but they generally involve obtaining a degree from an accredited dental school and passing written and practical exams. Often, continuing education is also required to maintain licensure to keep up-to-date with current practices, and online courses are available through institutions of higher education or professional organizations such as the American Dental Association. Upon licensure, dentists may choose to work in a private practice or a hospital emergency room. Still others go into research or teaching.

Job opportunities in dentistry are promising, expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of dentists is projected to grow by 16% through 2018, while employment of dental assistants and dental hygienists is expected to grow by 36% during the same time period, putting the two among the fastest-growing occupations. The demand for more dentists will stem from the retirement of those currently practicing, as well as the projected increase in population.

More people are expected to visit the dentist as private insurance providers increase their dental coverage. Advances in technology that increase productivity, enabling dental practices to expand, are expected to increase demand for dental assistants and hygienists. According to the BLS, dental practices will focus more on providing care and instruction aimed at preventing teeth loss. Dentists can also expect cosmetic services such as teeth-whitening to become more popular.

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