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Dentist

Dentistry is a helping profession and a career in dentistry can be very rewarding. It is also an ethical profession and practising dentists are expected to place the health and welfare of their patients before any other considerations. Dentists also have an important role in leading the oral health team.

Overview

  • What is a Dentist?

    A dentist is a registered primary healthcare professional who is highly educated and specialised in the care of the teeth and their supporting structures including the orofacial region. Dentists help people to maintain and improve their oral health. As oral health can have important implications for general health, quality of life and aesthetics, dentists have an important role in maintaining the wellbeing of their patients.

    A career in dentistry affords a range of employment opportunities including:

    • owning your own practice
    • employment in group practice
    • a role with the defence forces
    • community care positions in public dental clinics.

    Some dentists work outside clinical dentistry in roles such as research, teaching or consultancy for dental companies.

    In the clinical team, the dentist has a legal responsibility, as the team leader, to ensure sound professional standards are maintained.

    A career in dentistry would be a good position for you if you:

    • are detail-oriented
    • have strong interests in medical sciences and business
    • possess good hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity
    • have strong interpersonal skills
    • have the capacity for three-dimensional thinking
    • possess artistic design ability and sensitivity to the needs of others.

    Dental schools in Australian universities grant Bachelor or Doctoral degrees. There are eight universities in Australia that provide training to prospective dentists. Although the post-nominal letters can vary from one institution to the next (for example, DMD, BDS, BDSc, BDent), these qualifications all allow graduating students to register as dentists at the completion of their training.

  • What do dentists do?

    As part of dental services, a dentist may:

    • perform comprehensive oral health assessments that include a health history, dental charting, oral cancer screening, decay screening, periodontal disease screening, saliva testing, jaw analysis, tooth staining and colour analysis, and taking vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, blood glucose, respiration)
    • perform dental examinations to determine a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan
    • prescribe, expose, process and interpret X-rays
    • make impressions of the teeth for study models and oral appliance fabrication
    • explain to the patient their oral condition and treatment options to gain consent to proceed with the provision of dental treatment
    • educate patients about oral health care and prevention
    • advise patients on plaque control, good nutrition, smoking cessation and systemic health
    • perform clinical treatments as agreed to by the patient to restore, remove, repair, replace, realign, remedy and retain teeth, form and function
    • administer and monitor effects of local anaesthetics, conscious sedation and nitrous oxide sedation in the dental practice
    • prescribe medications to reduce the burden of infection or prevent infection
    • refer patients to specialist dentists or physicians for further examination and treatment
    • maintain concise, complete and accurate paper and/or electronic patient dental records
    • provide supervision over allied dental health professionals working in the dental practice
    • conduct staff recruitment, training and management
    • stay up-to-date with new developments through continuous professional development
    • promote dental services and oral health educational messages to the public.

    Dentistry has an important surgical component, Improvements in dental technology over time allow dentists to provide painless and effective treatment to their patients if surgical intervention is required.

    Dentistry is also increasingly focused on stopping the onset of oral disease through education, behavioural change and preventative care.

    A dentist must practise under legislative regulations much like other registered health professionals such as nurses, physicians, pharmacists, physical therapists, optometrists, osteopaths, chiropractors and psychologists.

    Registration to practise a dentistry job in Australia requires evidence of the successful completion of an accredited university dental degree. It is expected that after dentists graduate, they will continue to update their learning throughout their career to ensure they are providing up-to-date, evidence-based care. As part of registration requirements, dentists must complete at least 60 hours of continuing professional development in a three-year period.

    The process of registration represents the strongest form of protection for the public from unqualified individuals and unsafe practices. It is illegal to practise dentistry without registering with AHPRA (administered by the Dental Board of Australia) and violation of the law is punishable by conviction and fine. 

    Once registration is granted, it must be renewed annually and you must declare that you remain fit to practise. Consideration of criminal history, health and education are important elements in the consideration of your registration renewal application each year. 

How to become a dentist

  • Are you considering a career in dentistry?

    If you are considering a career in dentistry you should:
    • take high school courses that have a broad exposure to mathematics, science, chemistry, biology, speech, psychology, computers and physics
    • apply for work experience in a dental practice or community dental clinic
    • be prepared to undertake lifelong learning
    • have good near-sighted and colour vision
    • have good interpersonal and communication skills
    • listen intently and be sensitive to the needs of others
    • be willing to work with people from different genders, age groups and diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds
    • have good manual dexterity
    • be able to grasp, manipulate and assemble objects
    • have a sound knowledge of computers
    • be able to prepare, understand and interpret written materials (letters, reports, summaries)
    • have strong skills in problem-solving
    • have good time management and planning skills
    • enjoy working cooperatively with others in a team environment
    • be willing to act as a clinical team leader
    • be interested in the health and wellbeing of others.
  • How do you become a dentist in New South Wales?

    To become a qualified dentist and achieve a dental career, you must complete rigorous academic and professional requirements. The minimum standard in tertiary education is five years of full-time study.

    There are two dental faculties in New South Wales that provide the qualifications necessary to register as a dentist in Australia, and they are based in the University of Sydney and Charles Sturt University.

    The University of Sydney

    The University of Sydney offers two pathways for graduation as a dentist:

    1. Doctor of Dental Medicine – graduate entry
    2. Double Degree Dentistry (Bachelor of Science (Advanced) followed by a Doctor of Dental Medicine) – for high school leavers with outstanding results

    The Doctor of Dental Medicine degree requires four years of full-time study and can only be accessed after successful completion of a Bachelors degree (minimum three years of study).

    More information on the University of Sydney

    Charles Sturt University (CSU)

    The Charles Sturt University School of Dentistry and Health Sciences, Orange, offers a Bachelor of Dental Science in Dentistry. This is a five-year undergraduate degree.

    More information on studying dentistry at CSU 

    Information about registration requirements for dentists in Australia can be accessed through the Dental Board of Australia.

  • Interstate university websites

Career Paths

  • Advanced Career Options

    New South Wales offers dentists pathways to complete further education of one to eight years to advance their dentistry career within the dental workforce. Universities in Australia are facilitating postgraduate certificates and diplomas, Masters degrees and Doctorate degrees to offer advanced clinical skills, academic positions, dental research and specialist dentist qualifications.

    For a full list of postgraduate programs at the University of Sydney, please click here.

    For details of courses available at Charles Sturt University, click here.

    The NSW Regional Dentistry Scholarship aims to support a student with strong links to regional New South Wales to train for a professional dental career. The scholarship is awarded annually to a student commencing dentistry studies.

  • Dentist Jobs and Career Opportunities

    Dentistry offers men and women of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds opportunities to treat a diverse group of patients in a variety of settings. Dentistry is changing rapidly, creating many opportunities to meet evolving challenges in oral health.

    General dentistry practice

    Many dentists work as self-employed practitioners in general practice. They provide a full range of dental care services to the public in the private, corporate and public sectors, identifying and treating dental diseases as well as providing preventative oral health services to save and protect teeth. Many dentists start out as an assistant dentist remunerated either by salary or commission before choosing to pursue their dental career either in solo private practice or in partnerships (group practice) with other dentists. There is also a trend for dentists to work in more than one sector within their working week.

    Speciality dentistry practice

    This type of dental practice concentrates its services in a specialised area of oral health care, for example, periodontics, pedodontics, endodontics, orthodontics, prosthodontics, oral surgery, oral pathology and special needs dentistry. A specialist’s primary purpose is to render a service to patients and the community which requires an expert level of knowledge and skill. A specialist dentist is expected to demonstrate expertise through experience as a general dentist before attaining a higher degree of at least three years' duration.

    Click here for more information on specialist dentists

    Public sector dental health services

    Salaried dentists (including general dentists and specialists), work in community dental clinics to provide routine and emergency dental services for eligible schoolchildren, the elderly, the socio-economically disadvantaged and people with intellectual and physical disabilities receiving specific social service support. Patients are sometimes required to be on waiting lists to access certain services (such as new dentures or wisdom teeth removal), although emergency care is typically provided without delay. Due to the nature of the procedures being undertaken and the health status of the patient, treatment may be required in a general anaesthetic setting and part of the role of dentists in the public sector is to provide such care. Consequently, dentists and dental specialists in the public sector will often work in close collaboration with their medical colleagues, especially when the patient is being treated in a hospital setting or is medically compromised.

    Public dental clinics in primary and secondary schools aim to ensure that children have the opportunity to reach adulthood with good oral health and to develop the skills to maintain it. Australia offers dentists the opportunity to provide dental care in diverse cultural environments throughout their dental career.

    Australian defence forces (army, navy or air force)

    Dental care is available in military dental clinics on ships and bases. Each of the armed services provides a comprehensive range of dental care for members of the service and in some circumstances their families. Dental graduates enter the armed services with the Officer rank, while specialist dentists typically enter the defence forces with a higher rank. Scholarships are available for dental students who wish to join the defence forces on graduation. Dental graduates meeting the entry requirements (including physical fitness standards) can be accepted into the defence force reserve with promotion available over time.

    International healthcare

    Australian general and specialist dentists may (with appropriate regional approvals) provide oral health services to populations abroad. During their dental career, many dentists volunteer some time to provide dentistry to people in developing regions, to provide routine services for disadvantaged persons and in urgent circumstances such as in response to natural disasters.

    Educators

    Dentists can apply the skills and knowledge from their work experience in teaching the clinical, technical and theoretical aspects of dentistry to students in all the dental sciences across TAFE and university programs. An academic dentistry career combines teaching, research, community service and patient care. Faculty members work in an intellectually stimulating and exciting academic environment.

    Career opportunities and dentistry jobs for academic dentists are excellent at this time.

    Researchers

    Research careers offer opportunities to generate new knowledge and be on the cutting edge of scientific discoveries. Some common research areas in dentistry include dental materials science, mouth physiology, systemic health and oral health and the impact of various preventative and treatment efforts. Research is a component of advanced degrees and can be conducted in the dental laboratory, or hospital or university training program. Many dentist researchers have faculty positions at universities.

    Professional Relations Managers

    Dentists can be employed as professional relations managers by product and service companies in the dental industry to communicate brand alliance and corporate directions to dental professionals or the public. This work may involve roles such as guiding decision-making processes by communicating the value of products, programs and services to dental professionals. Dentists are ideal candidates for these positions since they can develop strong relationships with their colleagues and communicate, through first-hand experience, the direct impact that a product or service can have on the dental profession and the public.

    Editors

    Dentists can apply their skills and knowledge in informing the dental profession about, and educating them on, current issues, techniques and research. This position can involve a professional magazine, journal or textbook and requires writing skills, self-motivation, good organisational and time management skills to meet deadlines, attention to detail and creativity.

    Consultant

    Dentists who have achieved clinical excellence may choose to share their achievements, knowledge and experience with other dental professionals on the speaker circuit. Sometimes this education is provided as a lecture, or if the skill requires practice, a tutorial with hands-on activities. Dental product companies are often interested in establishing working relationships with exceptionally skilled clinical dentists so they may share their product preferences with colleagues. Strong communication skills and high regard among peers will typically be required to become a successful dental speaking consultant.

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