It's estimated that every year in the United States, nearly 300,000 people have dental implants placed inside their mouths. Whether it's due to an accident, to repair a congenital condition, or simply due to old age, the reality is that cosmetic dentistry has risen greatly over the past few years. This responsibility falls on the passionate dental specialists known as Prosthodontists. And believe it or not, the interest level of new college students who have aspirations of learning how to become a prosthodontist, is also significantly on the rise.
What is a Prosthodontist?
Among the nine recognized dental specialties by the American Dental Association, Prosthodontics focuses on restoring damaged teeth or replacing missing teeth with artificial devices — such as dental implants, dentures, crowns, bridges, and veneers. Although many traditional dentists can provide these services as well, the Prosthodontist offers extensive experience working on delicate dental cases that require a specialist.
In order to become a prosthodontist, a candidate must complete a bachelor degree, dental school, and three additional years of residency training and education through an ADA-accredited prosthodontic graduate program. This specialty residency training is overseen and managed by the American Board of Prosthodontics examination, where qualified graduates of the residency program are eligible to receive board certification.
Prosthodontists provide several specialized services that utilize state-of-the-art techniques, in order to successfully repair congenital defects, as well as issues that arise from traumatic injury or neglect. Some of these services, include:
Understanding the Educational Path to Becoming an Prosthodontist
In order to practice as a prosthodontist, a candidate must complete residency training and receive board certification from the American Board of Prosthodontics. Before this can be completed, a bachelor’s degree must first be completed from an accredited university or college. The next step is to complete dental school. After the candidate passes the National Board Dental Exams, they can practice as either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM).
The Educational Steps for Becoming a Prosthodontist
First - Receive a Bachelor Degree
As a candidate begins their educational path, they will focus on general studies in the biological sciences, including, biology, physiology, chemistry, physics, and human anatomy. Future prosthodontists will also complete core studies in written communications, mathematics, and in many cases, psychology and sociology. These classes help potential prosthodontists gain a better understanding of people, the fears that often come with visiting a dentist, and how to provide better bedside manner.
Second – Graduate from Dental School
The second phase of the educational path is to become a licensed DDS or DDM. A candidate will complete this step at an accredited Dental College or University. The first two years of study tends to focus on learning initial dental sciences and procedures that are taught in both the classroom and in laboratory settings.
The final two years transfer to clinical studies, where the soon-to-be dentists will take what they learned in the classroom, and apply it ,to practical experience as instructed by dentists who have also received their PhD's. The students work in groups, where they learn how to diagnose and treat adult patients under direct supervision. Once the candidate has completed the dental school examinations, they will become a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or a DMD (Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry).
Third – Become Licensed DDS / DMD
In order to become licensed to practice dentistry in the United States, a candidate must complete the National Board Dental Examinations, as administered through the American Dental Association. There are two parts to this exam:
Each US State has a specific licensing requirement to practice in their state, and requires dentists to continue their education in order to maintain their licensing through attending educational classes or seminars.
Fourth – Complete Residency Training
The residency training for becoming a Prosthodontist begins directly after graduation from dental college and successful completion of the NBD exam. This is a three year program (separated into quarters, often by the hospital or professional organization that offers the residency training). During this residency, candidates will receive intensive on-hands training in several sectors of this specialty including:
A common theme with many of the residency programs within prosthodontics is that they are often limited to very small group sizes. This is good news for residents, as they can develop close relationships with experienced board-certified mentors. The primary emphasis of the residency is on clinical practice, however, it is also strong in research training.
The residency training will also focus on many other core studies that are relative to the overall practice of prosthodontics including:
The primary reason why these specialties are highlighted is because many of these professionals work with oral cancer patients. As such, they need to have a clear understanding of how to properly care for surgical patients, and the interdisciplinary methods of treating those who are currently undergoing radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Once the residency has been completed, the candidate will have the opportunity to sit before the American Board of Prosthodontics to receive board certification. This examination is extremely difficult, as it includes oral, written, and clinical examinations — all of which need to be passed with high standards to receive the board certification.
Understanding the Career Path of an Prosthodontist
The primary reason why this dental specialty is among the fastest growing, is due in part to the baby-boomer generation. A large percentage of Americans are approaching, or have passed, the age of 60 — the time when many people tend to seek the services of prosthodontist specialists to improve their smiles. However, the rise of oral cancer rates, and the fact that many insurance companies are starting to cover reconstructive oral surgery from traumatic injuries, has also stimulated a growth spurt.
Typically, these specialists will begin their careers working with existing dental groups or clinics — providing services when referred to by dentists, orthodontists, oral surgeons, and other medical professionals. These specialists can also continue their education and receive a PhD to become instructors of future prosthodontists, work in private practices, government agencies and federally funded medical clinics, such as VA hospitals and Department of Defense military hospitals.
Average Salary of a Prosthodontist
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, the average salary of a prosthodontist approached $110,000 annually. This is a very select group of experts, as in the same year only 560 active prosthodontists worked in the United States. Further, starting salaries typically begin near $80,000 per year in other growing employment sectors, such as medical equipment manufacturers that develop prosthetic and replacement products for other prosthodontists to use for their patients.
The professional prosthodontist can be a savior to anyone who wants to keep their smile looking great, or a salvation to somebody who has experienced a traumatic injury, who was born with a congenital defect, or has suffered through neglect. This vocation is one of the dental specialties that has seen significant growth, and is expected to see continued growth at a rate of 20 percent in the next five years.