Dental career industry information

Are you interested in a career in the dental industry?

We are always excited to hear when people are interested in joining our profession.

As we are so passionate about the dental industry, we thought we would put an information page together for anyone who would like some general information.

If you have any further questions about what it’s like to work in the dental industry, feel free to ask us at your next appointment! Our team are more than happy to answer your questions.

For more specific information, a good place to start is by visiting these websites:

Common careers in the dental industry

A dentist is not the only career path available if you are interested in the dental industry. There are a number of associated and support positions/careers available. Other dental practitioner professions include an Oral Health Therapist, Dental Therapist and Oral Hygienist. Support positions include Dental Assistants and Dental Receptionists.

  • Dentist (dental practitioner)
  • Oral health therapist (dental practitioner)
  • Oral hygienist (dental practitioner)
  • Dental assistant (support role)
  • Receptionist (support role)

We will discuss more about these roles below, including common qualifications needed, and some of the tasks you might complete in a typical day.

Please note this is just a small list, there are many other professions within the dental industry including those who work within a dental laboratory, or specialists who go on to complete further study. You can find more information about other dental careers on the Australian Dental Association website here.

General industry information

The field of dentistry is concerned with the health and appearance of the oral cavity. This includes the teeth, gums, tongue and jaw.

The basis of the dental profession is helping others which is very rewarding. It is also an ethical profession where you will need to follow strict industry guidelines and regulations, and you will be expected to put the health and welfare of patients before all other considerations.

A strong focus within the industry is on preventative care. This is actively helping patients to retain their natural teeth and keep their teeth and mouth healthy, and free from bacteria and disease. There is a growing understanding that the health of a person’s mouth has a significant influence on their overall health and wellbeing. Therefore, you will also be helping patients to maintain their overall health and reduce their chances of suffering from other systemic diseases that are thought to be linked to poor oral health.

Another particular focus within the industry is cosmetic dentistry, or the appearance of the teeth and gums. This involves altering the appearance of the teeth or smile for an aesthetic outcome. A very rewarding aspect of cosmetic dental treatments is being able to help patients achieve the smile they have always wanted.

There are many other areas within dentistry that make each day interesting, different and fulfilling. You will see patients of a variety of different ages each day, with a variety of concerns. Each patient is different, and so each treatment and required outcome is going to be different. This allows you to be part of many different ‘smile journeys’ as you help patients to maintain, treat and create healthy and functional smiles.

Do you have great people skills? A large portion of your time working in dentistry involves interacting with patients. Excellent customer service skills are extremely important to ensure patients have a positive experience at the practice. No matter which position you are in, it is your job to ensure that patients are feeling welcomed, comfortable, informed, and confident they are receiving quality dental care. You will need to be a good listener, be able to empathise if patients are anxious, be patient, and have good communication skills.

A desire to help people and to improve the lives of others is also an essential attribute if you would like to work in dentistry. You will be in a position where you are able to actively and significantly improve the lives of patients through treating and maintaining their dental health and function. You will also have the responsibility to educate patients about oral health and dental care.

Do you enjoy volunteering? There are many opportunities to volunteer in dentistry, both within Australia and overseas. This can include working with charities and other industry organisations. There are volunteering programs for most dental professions including dentists, oral hygienists /oral health therapists, and dental assistants.

Career information

General Dentist

What does a dentist do?

Dentists are health professionals and the primary healthcare providers who diagnose, treat and prevent conditions and diseases of the oral cavity (which includes the teeth and gums).

Dentists have an important role in helping their patients to maintain and improve their oral health. Oral health can have significant implications for general health, quality of life and aesthetics, therefore dentists are also involved in maintaining and improving the overall wellbeing of their patients.

A dentist can be a general practitioner, or they can go on to specialise in a number of different areas including orthodontics (an ‘orthodontist’), periodontics (a ‘periodontist’), endodontics (an ‘endodontist’) or paedodontics (a ‘peadiatric’ dentist).

Dentists can also have an important role in leading and overseeing an oral health team (which may be comprised of oral hygienists, dental therapists or oral health therapists).

Did you know that dentistry is quite artistic? It involves very precise handiwork, dexterity and attention to detail. You need to have good hand-eye coordination. Some aspects of dentistry are similar to that of a sculptor or craftsman.

There are a number of employment opportunities for a dentist which include:

  • Owning their own practice.
  • Employment in a private group practice.
  • A role within the defence forces.
  • Community care positions in the public sector including hospitals, schools and health departments.
  • Roles outside clinical dentistry including research, teaching, or consulting for dental companies.

Qualifications

Generally you would need to complete either a Bachelor of Dental Science (Bachelor Degree) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (Masters Degree) from an approved education provider.

You will then need to become registered with the Dental Board of Australia. You will be required to renew your registration annually, and complete a minimum of 60 hours of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) activities over each three-year cycle.

What kind of personal attributes are required?

A career as a dentist might be right for you if you:

  • Enjoy interacting with a wide range of people.
  • Enjoy helping people.
  • Are patient, a good listener, and able to empathise with patients’ concerns.
  • Possess excellent interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Enjoy working both independently and as part of a larger team.
  • Are able to multi-task.
  • Enjoy or enjoyed science subjects at school.

  • Have an advanced aptitude to study and understand medical science.
  • Have good general dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
  • Have good artistic flair, or enjoy being creative.
  • Are highly detail-oriented.
  • Enjoy thinking spatially.
  • Possess a willingness to understand and conform with health industry regulations.
  • Possess a willingness to learn about business management and leadership (depending on the type of role you would like to work in).

Tasks and duties:

  • Perform dental assessments and examinations in order to diagnose conditions and develop treatment plans for patients.
  • Taking and interpreting dental x-rays, and a patient’s medical history, to support your diagnosis and influence your treatment planning.
  • Communicate with patients to explain any diagnosis, and why a particular course of treatment or procedure is necessary.
  • Undertake clinical procedures to restore, remove, replace and realign teeth or form and function of the mouth.
    This can include providing preventative care treatment (such as teeth cleaning), restorative treatment (such as restoring teeth with fillings or dental crowns; or replacing lost teeth with implants or dentures), and oral surgery (such as removing wisdom teeth).
  • Administer and monitor local anaesthetic whilst performing procedures.
  • Prescribing medications to reduce or prevent infection or pain.
  • Educate patients on the ways to prevent dental conditions from occurring or recurring.
  • Supervising treatments by allied dental staff such as oral health therapists/oral hygienists.

Question and Answer with our team

Dr Lee Woodward (Dentist)

Dr Lee Woodward profile picture

Why did you decide to work in the dental industry?

I was initially attracted to the dental industry because I was interested in the medical biological studies and the intricate detail of cosmetic and practical dentistry. I also thoroughly enjoy the experience of interacting with my patients and building long term relationships with them, and helping them achieve a healthy and functional smile for life.

What aspects about your job do you enjoy most?

I get immense satisfaction out of helping my patients improve their quality of life and overall health through dental care.

Describe what a typical day is like as a dentist

We start each day with a team huddle to discuss the appointments we have booked in for the day and the individual requirements of each patient in our care. This helps all areas of our team to be on the same page and ensures we are organised and efficient throughout the day.

I see many patients for a variety of dental procedures and treatments so each appointment is different, but all involve initially greeting the patient and spending the time to either get to know them or to find out how they have been since I have seen them last. It’s very important to me that my patients feel comfortable in my care. I will then perform any treatment needed including examinations, diagnostics and procedures. I then discuss any findings or results with the patient and carefully explain available treatment options, and provide an ongoing care plan that takes into consideration their needs and desires.

What advice would you give someone looking to become a dentist?

Look forward to a challenging, detail-based medical career where variety and responsibility is forever changing, and the level of professional satisfaction is enormously high and ongoing.

If you enjoy helping people and interacting with people you will enjoy this profession. You will need to be empathetic and understanding, with the ability to provide education to patients and the desire to answer their questions and alleviate their concerns.

Dr Elizabeth Kerr (Dentist)

Dr Elizabeth Kerr profile picture

Why did you decide to work in the dental industry?

My father was a doctor (surgeon) and encouraged me to further my professional education. Dentistry is related to the medical industry which I was already familiar with. I also really enjoy working with people, and this is a people-oriented profession.

What aspects about your job do you enjoy most?

Helping people. This is a people service industry, so you are helping people to improve their health and wellbeing and their perception of themselves.

Describe what a typical day is like as a dentist

A typical day involves clinically treating patients, discussing their overall health, providing high quality care, and treatment planning for their ongoing future needs. It also involves administration work, liaising with the rest of the team to make sure we are all acting in the best needs of our patients, and obtaining further education (CPD) to keep up to date.

What advice would you give someone looking to become a dentist?

You have to be people-focused in terms of both patients and the staff team. It is an intensive industry, and it can be a stressful environment. You have a big responsibility to focus on attention to detail and the best treatment outcomes for your patients. You do need to be academically minded and need to constantly keep up to date with your education.

Particular attributes that help make a good dentist include being a good communicator, having excellent attention to detail, and having good manual dexterity (being good working with your hands).

 

Oral Health Therapist

An Oral Health Therapist is dual qualified as an Oral Hygienist and a Dental Therapist.

Previously to receive this qualification you had to complete a Bachelor of Oral Health (or equivalent qualification) to become an Oral Hygienist, and then complete further study to become a Dental Therapist.

However, there has been a change to the system in recent years and now most Bachelor of Oral Health degrees qualify students as both Oral Hygienists and Dental Therapists, collectively known as Oral Health Therapists. It is now less common to only be qualified as an Oral Hygienist.

What does an oral health therapist do?

Oral Health Therapists (OHT) have a higher level of responsibility than dental assistants, but less responsibility than dentists. An OHT generally works under the supervision of a dentist.

An OHT provides preventative dental care treatment. Their main aim is to promote oral health. Their role includes undertaking examinations for dental diseases (such as gingivitis or periodontitis), providing preventative treatments (such as fissure sealants), providing professional teeth cleaning, providing periodontal disease treatment, and providing teeth whitening treatments.

An OHT can have a large influence on patients’ health by assisting them in preventing dental disease, and dental problems, before they arise. An important aspect of their role is to educate patients on oral health care, how to prevent dental disease, the importance of a healthy mouth and how it relates to their overall health, how lifestyle habits can negatively affect a person’s oral health, and how to correctly care for their oral health at home so they can take an active role in the maintenance of their own oral health.

An OHT is also qualified to diagnose and perform certain dental procedures on children, teenagers and young adults up to 25 years old (depending on their qualifications and where they practice). Their scope of treatment may include: restorative treatment (such as stainless-steel crowns for children, composite fillings for children, and composite fillings for adults up to 4 surfaces), pulpotomies and root canals for children, and extraction of primary (baby) teeth.

There are a number of employment opportunities for an Oral Health Therapist which include:

  • Employment in a private group practice.
  • A role within the defence forces.
  • Community care positions in the public sector including hospitals, schools and health departments, or mobile clinics in regional, remote or rural areas.
  • Roles outside clinical dentistry including research (for example into oral diseases), public health promotion, editing or marketing (for industry publications), teaching, or consulting for dental companies.

Qualifications 

Generally you would need to complete a Bachelor of Oral Health or a Bachelor of Oral Health Therapy from an approved education provider.

You will then need to become registered with the Dental Board of Australia. You will be required to renew your registration annually, and complete a minimum of 60 hours of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) activities over each three-year cycle.

What kind of personal attributes are required? 

A career as an Oral Health Therapist might be right for you if you:

  • Enjoy interacting with a wide range of people.
  • Have an active interest in health care work and caring for others.
  • Are patient, a good listener, and able to empathise with patients’ concerns.
  • Possess excellent interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Have the ability to communicate well with children.
  • Enjoy working both independently and as part of a larger team.

  • Are able to multi-task.
  • Have good time management skills.
  • Enjoy or enjoyed science subjects at school.
  • Have good manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
  • Have good artistic flair, or enjoy being creative.
  • Are highly detail-oriented.

Tasks and duties:

  • Undertake examinations and provide preventative care to patients. This can include professional teeth cleaning and polishing, periodontal disease treatment, teeth whitening treatment, and fissure sealants.
  • Taking and interpreting x-rays (radiographs).
  • Applying preventative treatments such as fluoride, and performing plaque disclosing or saliva testing.
  • Taking impressions for plaster models of the mouth.
  • Creating customised sport mouthguards.
  • Provide oral health care education and advice to patients, including teaching them how to correctly care for their oral health at home, and encouraging them to take an active role in the maintenance of their own oral health.
  • Assess, diagnose and treat dental disease conditions in children, adolescents and young adults (depending on your qualifications and where you work). This can include performing restorative treatment such as stainless-steel crowns and certain types of composite fillings, extraction of primary (baby) teeth, and root canals or pulpotomies.
  • Referring more complex dental conditions onto a dentist for treatment.
  • May choose to promote oral health in the local community by providing education and information to health services or groups such as preschools, primary schools and aged care centres.

Question and Answer with our team

Suzette Holmes (Oral Health Therapist)

Suzette Holmes profile picture

Why did you decide to work in the dental industry?

I was offered a job as a dental assistant when I was 18 years old. I enjoyed working in the industry so much that I never left dentistry, and went on to complete further studies.

What aspects about your job do you enjoy most?

Meeting people and contributing towards better oral health outcomes for my patients.

Describe what a typical day is like as an Oral Health Therapist

Very busy. It’s not all about cleaning teeth. A large part of each appointment is educating patients about diet and oral hygiene.

What advice would you give someone looking to become an Oral Health Therapist?

You have chosen a rewarding career. If you are passionate about health and helping people, it’s a fantastic choice.

Christine Hoffman (Oral Hygienist)

Christine Hoffman profile picture

Why did you decide to work in the dental industry?

There are many reasons why I decided to work in the industry but mostly it was the ability to work closely with and help patients. I really enjoy seeing how positive patients are about how we can help them maintain and look after their oral health.

What aspects about your job do you enjoy most?

I get to work with fantastic patients every day which I love, and we also have a great team environment here.

Describe what a typical day is like as an Oral Hygienist

Very busy but very rewarding. It’s a great feeling at the end of the day knowing I have been able to help my patients have a better understanding of oral health, and have a healthier smile.

What advice would you give someone looking to become an Oral Hygienist?

Don’t work yourself too hard that you burn out. Find a practice or company where you love the work that you are doing. Always have empathy towards your patients and spend the time getting to know them. Be professional towards your patients and work colleagues at all times. No matter how busy you are, don’t forget to have a laugh, and always try to be a positive influence in your patients’ lives and within your workplace.

 

Dental assistant

What does a dental assistant do?

Dental assistants (also referred to as dental nurses) perform a number of general duties around the dental practice, and their role is crucial to the smooth daily operation of the practice.

They support the dentists (and sometimes oral health therapists/oral hygienists) with a range of clinical tasks including setting up and cleaning the dental surgeries, sterilising and preparing instruments for procedures, bringing patients in for their appointments and preparing patients for treatment, setting up dental equipment, taking x-rays (if they have a radiation licence), and helping prepare for dental procedures/treatments (such as pouring impressions for models). They also complete and file paperwork, and may perform jobs in an on-site laboratory.

Dental assistants are the team members who often spend the most amount of time with patients during their appointments, and must maintain a professional standard of customer service at all times, and ensure patients are feeling comfortable.

Dental assistants must be aware of and diligently follow strict protocols regarding infection control and other healthcare guidelines.

Dental assistants will also assist the practice manager, and may either assist the reception team or may also work in the reception area.

There are a number of employment opportunities for a dental assistant which include:

  • Employment in a private group practice.
  • Employment at public funded dental clinics either in hospitals or community-based clinics.
  • A role within the defence forces.
  • After obtaining industry experience, or further qualifications, dental assistants can go on to become practice managers, research assistants, educators, and dental sales representatives or consultants.

If you are thinking of doing further studies in the dental industry (perhaps to become a practitioner), but you would like to see what it’s like working in a dental practice first, working as a dental assistant could be a good initial role for you as it doesn’t require having to complete a university (or other) degree first.

Qualifications 

There is no formal training required to commence entry-level work as a dental assistant. However, you may wish to complete vocational training to further your knowledge and education, or to potentially increase job prospects.

If you are wanting to undergo training, you would need to complete a Certificate III in Dental Assisting at an accredited TAFE institution.

You can choose to just have a Cert III, or you can elect to further your training and go on to complete a Certificate IV in Dental Assisting at an accredited TAFE institution (note you need to complete a Cert III before you can enrol in a Cert IV).

After completing a Cert IV you may also choose to apply for a radiation licence which will allow you to take radiographs (x-rays) and operate digital imaging equipment. Your licence would need to be renewed and kept valid.

A Certificate III in Dental Assisting provides you with the skills to assist dentists and other health practitioners during oral health care procedures.

A Certificate IV in Dental Assisting provides you with the skills to deliver a higher level of assistance.

What kind of personal attributes are required?

A career as a Dental Assistant might be right for you if you:

  • Enjoy interacting with a wide range of people.
  • Have an active interest in caring for others.
  • Are patient, a good listener, and able to empathise with patients’ concerns.
  • Possess excellent communication skills.
  • Enjoy working both independently and as part of a larger team.
  • Are able to multi-task, and have good time management skills.

  • Have good organisation skills.
  • Are highly detail-oriented
  • Possess good manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
  • Enjoy responsibility.
  • Have the ability to comprehend and follow instructions.

Tasks and duties:

  • Preparing and cleaning dental surgeries for patients.
  • Bringing patients in for their appointments and preparing them for treatment.
  • Delivering high customer service at all times which includes making patients feel welcome, and constantly checking in to see how they are feeling and ensuring they are comfortable.
  • Setting up for procedures, which includes preparing instruments for the dentist to use and preparing materials for use.
  • Performing suctioning and passing instruments to the dentist as they’re required during procedures.
  • Preparing and filing paperwork relating to treatment, and ensuring patient records are up to date.
  • Booking patient appointments in the schedule.
  • Cleaning up and sterilising the surgery and instruments after the procedure, and ensuring all infection control protocols are strictly followed.
  • Liaising with the dental laboratory and managing laboratory orders and timeframes.
  • Maintaining a dental supplies inventory (often in conjunction with the practice manager).
  • If a sufficient radiation licence is held, taking radiographs (x-rays) and operating digital imaging equipment.
  • Reception duties may be performed in conjunction with clinical dental assisting duties. If so, some of these tasks include welcoming patients to the practice, answering phone calls, replying to emails, scheduling appointments, taking payments, liaising with dental companies, laboratories and relevant government agencies, and banking reconciliation.

Question and Answer with our team

Lisa Deakin (Practice Manager and Senior Dental Assistant) 

Lisa Deakin profile picture

Why did you decide to work in the dental industry?

When I left school I wanted a career that was a bit different, that provided on-the-job training and where I could attend college of a night time. I went to see a careers advisor as part of my process for leaving school. The careers advisor discussed different jobs and college courses with me and when they suggested dental assisting I thought about my own experiences at the dentist, and how much I appreciated the nurses who worked there being so kind and reassuring to me, and it was something I was keen to try out. I applied for some dental assisting jobs, was lucky enough to gain employment and start at college and I haven’t looked back since. I have since emigrated to Australia from England, continued to work as a dental assistant and am now also a practice manager which shows where this career can take you.

What aspects about your job do you enjoy most?

One of the many aspects that I enjoy about my job is getting to know our patients, and being able to provide care and reassurance to them during their procedures. I also enjoy being part a patient’s journey, both their own smile journey and their relationship with our practice. I have met many new patients at their initial appointment who have gone on to become long-term patients where we have gotten to know them well over the years. I have also met many young children who I then see graduate high school, or young teenagers who then as an adult bring their own babies in for appointments. It is a very patient-focused industry.

Describe what a typical day is like as a dental assistant

A typical day starts with cleaning the dental surgeries, stocking the surgeries for materials and equipment we will need for the day, having a ‘morning huddle’ where we go through the patients we are having in that day, sorting out lab work, setting up the surgeries for patients, and booking appointments. The days are busy and rewarding, but it’s the little things that make my job special like putting my hand on a patient’s shoulder during treatment to reassure them it’s ok.

What advice would you give someone looking to become a dental assistant?

If you have a caring nature and love being busy, then it’s a great career to look into. You will get to work not only with patients, but within a close team environment which is very rewarding.

Emma Garden (Dental Assistant)

Emma Garden profile picture

Why did you decide to work in the dental industry?

I was managing a chicken shop and I decided that I wanted a change, but I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. I applied for a range of jobs and got offered a job in a dental surgery, so I took it. It turns out that dental assisting was the job for me! I absolutely love it, and have never looked back.

What aspects about your job do you enjoy most?

I love everything about my job. To me it’s like being a big kid in a candy store getting to be so hands on with all the equipment and materials, and assist in procedures. Wrapping instrument trays feels like wrapping Christmas presents, and I enjoy preparing materials such as pouring and shaping models. I also work with a great team who make every day fun and positive, and I really enjoy interacting with our patients and answering their questions.

Describe what a typical day is like as a dental assistant

A typical day involves setting up dental surgeries for patient appointments, greeting patients and bringing them through, chatting to patients while you get them prepared for procedures, cleaning the surgeries and sterilising instruments, and putting stock away. I am so lucky to also work with a lovely group of amazing and talented people here who share my passion and joy for the dental industry.

What advice would you give someone looking to become a dental assistant?

The dental industry is not for everyone But if you like to work with your hands, be part of a team environment, and take great joy in helping other people then you will most likely love it. It’s a very rewarding industry whether you are helping a child have a positive first dental appointment, getting someone out of pain, or helping to create someone’s dream smile, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

 

 

The general information provided by VC Dental is intended as a guide only. It is not to be taken as personal, professional advice. Before making any decision regarding your dental or medical health, it is important to consult with your dentist or medical practitioner. Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks.

This information is not guaranteed as correct or current. Ensure you verify any information obtained on this page with an industry relevant body, or an approved education provider. Qualifications and regulations may vary in different areas.