You might be able to gain an awareness of the demands of dentistry by observing a dentist at work. Training for and then working as a dental hygienist, dental assistant, or dental laboratory technician might lead to continued study in dentistry. Because of the nature of dentistry, developing good manual dexterity through sculpting or metalworking would be helpful to the prospective dentist. Volunteer or get a part-time job in a dental office to see what the work environment is like. If you can't find a position in a dental office, consider volunteering in any medical environment to gain a feel for medical work. Even if you volunteer at a local hospital, for example, you'll be able to work around medical staff and discover firsthand how it feels to help people. Finally, check out the American Dental Association's career Web site, http://www.ada.org/en/education-careers/careers-in-dentistry/be-a-dentist, for more information.
Most dentists are general practitioners, but 12 percent practice as specialists. The largest number of these specialists are orthodontists, followed by oral and maxillofacial surgeons, prosthodontists, pedodontists, periodontists, endodontists, oral pathologists, and public health dentists.
General practitioners must be proficient in many areas of dentistry. They not only must handle routine treatments, such as cleaning teeth, extracting teeth, and filling cavities, but must also be on the alert for any condition in the mouth requiring special treatment, such as crooked teeth, diseased gums, and oral cancer. General practitioners must be able to use and understand X-rays and be well acquainted with laboratory work.
Specialists devote their time and skills to specific dental problems. Orthodontists correct irregularities in the development of teeth and jaws by means of braces and similar devices. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons perform difficult tooth extractions, remove tumors from the gums or jaw, and set jaw fractures. Pedodontists specialize in the care and treatment of children's teeth. Periodontists treat diseased gums and other tissues that support the teeth. Prosthodontists design, construct, and fit dental prosthetics. Endodontists specialize in diseases of the tooth pulp. Oral and maxillofacial pathologists examine and diagnose tumors and lesions of the mouth. Oral and maxillofacial radiologists use radiant energy to diagnose, treat, and manage diseases, disorders, and conditions of the oral and maxillofacial region. Public health dentists work through public health agencies to treat and educate the public on the importance of dental health and care.