24. Wanna be a Dentist?
By Dr. Chai Wen Lin
Senior Lecturer, Department of General Dental Practice and Oral & Maxillofacial Imaging, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Malaya.
It is common that when thinking of a profession in Health Services, the job as a Medical Doctor will first come into minds. Actually, this is due to lack of information about dentistry as a profession which in fact is very close to Medical Profession. This article should enlighten prospective students, parents, teachers and others who are interested in taking Dentistry as a career.
What does a Dentist do?
In the clinic, dentists see patients with various problems which may range from routine dental check up to severe toothache. When patients suffered from severe toothache, dentists will be able to relieve the pain instantly. They remove decay, fill cavities, examine x-rays, treat children’s teeth, straighten teeth, and repair fractured teeth. They also perform corrective surgery on gums and supporting bones to treat gum diseases. Dentists extract teeth and make models and measurements for dentures to replace missing teeth. They provide instruction on diet, brushing, flossing, use of fluorides, and other aspects of dental care, as well.
Most people may think dentists only look at just teeth and mouths. In actual fact, dentists always interact with people of all ages, cultures and personalities. For example, when a child is anxious, good dentist uses different approach of communication skill to manage this situation. They educate their patients, as well as the general public, on how to achieve oral health and prevent disease.
The job is different from that of a Medical GPs as dentists use a variety of dental materials, equipment, including x-ray machines, drills, and instruments such as mouth mirrors, probes, forceps, brushes, and scalpels. The skills of handling the equipments and materials were acquired during their undergraduate training. Dentists are artists as well as scientists. In order to brighten one tooth or realign an entire jaw, dentists use artist’s esthetic sense to help their patients look their best. They improve patients’ appearance by using a wide variety of cosmetic dental procedures. In other word, one who has good hand skill will be very suitable for this career.
If you think of being a medical doctor because of your strong urge of providing services to those needed, like sick, handicapped, poor individuals, dentists are actually providing similar services. They are mostly conscientious, civic-minded individuals. For example, an Oral Surgeon treats oral cancer patients, motor-vehicle accident cases who have injury on their faces.
You will need to complete a five-year degree programme in one of the three public dental schools or two of the upcoming private dental schools in Malaysia. Upon completion of your training you will be awarded a BDS (Bachelor of Dental Surgery) or the equivalent of DDS (Doctorate of Dental Surgery).
Studies begin with classroom instruction and laboratory work in basic sciences, including anatomy, microbiology, biochemistry, and physiology. Startin in the 3rd year, students treat patients, usually in dental clinics, under the supervision of lecturers.
Dentistry requires diagnostic ability and manual skills. Dentists should have good visual memory, excellent judgment of space and shape, a high degree of manual dexterity, and scientific ability. Good common sense, self-discipline, and communication skills are helpful for success in managing patients in the clinics.
Presently there are about 2300 practicing dentists in Malaysia, with approximately in more than half in the private practice. The dentist to the population ratio stands at 1:10,451, highlighting the need to train more dentists for the country.
There are many areas that you can explore after obtaining basic degree. One can specialized in different field such as orthodontics, in which one specialized to straighten teeth, or oral surgery whereby one specialized in performing surgery to treat lesions like cysts, tumors, etc. in oral cavities.
Dentists need to balance their personal and professional lives to meet their individual needs and desires. For example, people who like to be involved in teaching and research can become academicians in universities. Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Health also have posts for those who really like to stay in government services. Dentistry allows you to be your own boss, when one decides to set up his own private practice.
Currently you have to join “compulsory service” for three (3) years upon graduation whereby you will provide your service to the Ministry of Health. Works include general dentistry, dental public health and training at a hospital whereby you will go on call to attend to emergencies like dentoalveolar fractures, wound/cut to the oral cavity and its surrounding structures and jaw fractures. Your initial income will be within the bracket of RM 2000.
After 3 years of compulsory service you may decide to continue working for the government or become your own boss. Self-employed dentists in private practice tend to earn more than do salaried dentists. The capital to start a dental clinic is high as most of the equipments are imported from overseas but in due time, your income subsequently will increase to several thousand ringgit. Earnings vary according to number of years in practice, location, hours worked, and specialty. Most dentists work 5 or 6 days a week. Some work evenings and weekends to meet their patients’ needs. Initially, dentists may work more hours as they want to establish their practice. Experienced dentists often work fewer hours. A considerable number continue in part-time practice well beyond the usual retirement age.
Most Malaysian private dentists are “solo practitioner,” meaning they own their own businesses and work alone or with a small staff. Some dentists have partners, and a few work for other dentists as associate dentists. Dentists in private practice oversee a variety of administrative tasks, including bookkeeping, and buying equipment and supplies. They may employ and supervise dental surgery assistants, dental laboratory technician and receptionists. Like other business owners, these dentists must provide their own health insurance, life insurance, and retirement benefits.
You may also pursue an area of specialization of interest to become a specialist. The training in an area of specialization usually requires up to four (4) years, in order to be qualified as a consultant in the Ministry of Health of Malaysia. The following are areas of sub-specialization in dentistry: public health, operative/conservative dentistry, endodontics, oral pathology, oral medicine, oral surgery, orthodontics, paediatric dentistry, dental forensic, periodontics and fix and removable prosthodontics, and lastly oral and maxillofacial radiology.
Orthodontists straighten teeth by applying pressure to the teeth with braces or retainers. The oral and maxillofacial surgeons, operate on the mouth and jaws. Paediatric dentists’ work focuses on dentistry for children where as the periodontists treat gums and bones supporting the teeth. Prosthodontists are dentists who specialize in replacing missing teeth with permanent fixtures, such as crowns and bridges, or removable fixtures, such as dentures. Endodontists are dentists who look into the fine canal of teeth to perform root canal therapy. Public health dentists’ work includes promoting good dental health and preventing dental diseases within the community. They work mostly in the Ministry of Health or one of the teaching dental schools in the country. Oral pathologists are dentists who specialize in studying oral diseases where as oral and maxillofacial radiologists diagnose diseases in the head and neck through the use of imaging technologies. There is currently only two oral and maxillofacial radiologist in the country. Last but not the least, forensic dentist, as the name suggests, deals with forensic matter with regards to the teeth and face.
Expenses and Financial Assistance
A major concern of any potential dental student’s family is cost. Though a dental education may be expensive, it is within the reach of people from all economic backgrounds.
Financial assistance in the form of loans and scholarships are readily available from a variety of sources One excellent source is the Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam scholarship. Others include a scholarship from the Ministry of Defence, various foundations like the Kuok Foundation and the Malaysian Dental Association Foundation. Besides, study loans are readily offered by various local banks in the country. Since loans are available, the financial support required from parents may not amount to more than help with living expenses for the dental student.
For all parents, talk to your son or daughter about a dental career. By helping him or her decide, you’ll provide the foundation for a future of satisfaction and success. We look forward to you becoming part of this prestigious profession.