Skip to main content

The Dental Team

At a glance:

  • California has over 35,000 dentists, 30,000 assistants and 18,000 hygienists
  • A license unique to California is the registered dental hygienists in alternative practice (RDHAP)
  • Another advanced area of practice is the registered dental assistant in extended functions (RDAEF)

Dental team areas of expertise

Interested in a career in oral health? Explore four of the primary roles and find next steps for learning more about education and employment.


The dentist is the head of the dental team — responsible and accountable for everything that goes on in the dental office.

Primary role:

  • Diagnose, plan treatment and prescribe medication
  • Provide treatment for diseases and conditions of, and associated with, the mouth, jaws, and teeth

Skills and education:

  • Bachelor’s degree plus 3-4 years at an accredited dental school
  • Receives extensive training in diagnosis and treatment planning and in clinical restorative and surgical care
  • Degree obtained: Doctor of dental surgery (DDS) or doctor of medicine in dentistry (DMD)


Dental specialists obtain additional post-doctoral education in one of 10 areas:

  • Dental anesthesiology
  • Dental public health
  • Endodontics
  • Oral and maxillofacial pathology
  • Oral and maxillofacial radiology
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery
  • Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics
  • Pediatric dentistry
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics

Dental programs and resources:

Dental Assistant

The role of a dental assistant ranges from providing office support, to providing basic supportive dental procedures, to working chairside to assist dentists in providing advanced restorative care.

Primary role:

  • Collecting patient data, including taking and processing X-rays, for dentist diagnosis
  • Assisting the dentist with the delivery of instruments and preparation of dental materials
  • Counseling patients about dental disease prevention

Skills and education:

  • On-the-job training
  • Vocational or technical schools
  • Regional Occupational programs
  • Community college

License and permit categories:

  • Dental assistants (DA) have no licensing requirements
  • Registered dental assistants (RDA) are licensed professionals
  • Registered dental assistants in extended functions (RDAEF) receive an additional license after advanced training
  • Orthodontic assistants and dental sedation assistants receive permits after successfully completing specialized training

Dental assistant resources

Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists work with dentists to provide comprehensive dental care to patients.

Primary role:

  • Dental disease prevention, including fluoride applications and dental sealants
  • Clean teeth and provide nonsurgical treatments for periodontal health
  • Counsel patients in daily oral hygiene care

Skills and education:

  • Minimum of two years of college education, which includes basic science and dental specific courses
  • Longer programs can lead to a bachelor’s degree
  • Additional, specialized education required for an alternative practice license or additional options for care, such as stabilizing teeth with active dental decay

License categories:

  • Registered dental hygienist (RDH)
  • Registered dental hygienist in extended functions (RDHEF)
  • Registered dental hygienist in alternative practice (RDHAP)

Dental hygienist resources

Laboratory Technician

A dental laboratory technician rarely works directly with patients, but receives instruction from dentists for making dental prostheses, which are replacements for natural teeth.

Primary role:

  • Create full dentures, crowns, bridges, or orthodontic appliances
  • Fabricates fixed bridges, partials, dentures, veneers and crowns
  • Create orthodontic appliances and splints to help straighten and protect teeth

Skills and education:

  • Community college/ course work
  • Vocational/technical school/ education and training
  • Apprenticeships and on-the-job training
  • Aptitude for detailed and precise work
  • Manual dexterity in using small hand instruments

Laboratory technician resources