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Professional Dental Terminology for the Dental Assistant and Hygienist

Course Number: 542

Dental Team Members

In a dental practice there are usually three to four different types of dental professionals. The dentist must attend four years of dental school (after college), is licensed (DDS/DMD), and is responsible for the diagnosis of dental disease and treatment planning for the patient. The dentist is the one that, most often, carries out the restorative treatment for the patient. The dental hygienist, who attended a minimum of two to four years of dental hygiene school, is also a licensed professional (RDH/LDH), and is responsible for the preventive portion of patient treatment. This includes, but is not limited to, oral prophylaxisoral cancer screeningperiodontal screening, and oral hygiene education for the patient. The dental assistant can be either on the job trained (OJT) or be a graduate of a dental assisting program. Most dental assisting programs are usually one year in length. The dental assistant, after meeting certain educational criteria, may take an examination administered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) and have the title of certified dental assistant (CDA). The dental assistant is the office professional that usually assists the dentist during restorative procedures. The assistant also can do many other tasks such as preventive education, making temporary crowns, and removing sutures, to name a few. The tasks of the dental assistant are dependent on the laws of the state, or region, and level of education. Each state, or region, has a different set of rules.

Other members of the dental team include the receptionist and office manager. Although these roles do not require a specific education in dentistry, these members provide an essential part in the practice’s ability to run efficiently and effectively.

A member of the dental team that usually does not work in the dental office, but in a dental laboratory, is the dental laboratory technician or technologist (DLT). This professional may be trained on the job or attend two to four years of dental laboratory technology education. They are responsible for making crowns, bridges, partial and full dentures as well as other dental appliances following the prescription of the dentist.

There are also several dental team members that are becoming more prevalent in the United States. A dental therapist is a licensed member of the dental team who provides preventive and restorative dental care, usually for children, adolescents and tribal communities. As of 2024, there are 12 states that allow dental therapists to practice in a broad array of settings. There are 2 states that allow dental therapists to practice in tribal settings only. These are Alaska and Idaho.1 The precise role varies and is dependent on the therapist's education and the various dental regulations and guidelines of each state. Community Dental Health Coordinators (CDHC) are a type of community health worker. They connect underserved people with public health resources and dentists who can provide needed treatment. CDHCs often come from the same types of communities in which they work.

There are twelve recognized dental specialties within dentistry. These are Dental Anesthesiology, Dental Public HealthEndodonticsOral and Maxillofacial PathologyOral and Maxillofacial RadiologyOral and Maxillofacial SurgeryOral Medicine, Orofacial Pain, Orthodontics and Dentofacial OrthopedicsPediatric DentistryPeriodontics, and Prosthodontics.2