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:

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 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

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