Just like any other medical condition, most dental diseases or afflictions that can’t be seen with the naked eye, are discovered through imagery. Whether this comes in the form of standard x-rays, or highly advanced three dimensional CT scans, the duty to diagnose many oral and maxillofacial medical conditions falls on dental radiologists. And, as the need for qualified dentists to fill positions of retiring dental experts continues to rise — so does the demand for professional oral and maxillofacial radiologists.
What is an Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologist?
An oral and maxillofacial radiologist (also known as a dental radiologist) is a medical professional that has completed dental school and residency training, and become board certified to practice radiology in the dental and maxillofacial medical fields. These professionals are highly trained to use diagnostic tools, including X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) scans to diagnose and treat patients.
Typically, a dental radiologist will work in conjunction with other dental professionals, including:
Typically, they will complete the advanced scans of the neck, head and jaw areas at large hospital locations, or professional diagnostic imagery centers. However, they also work with medical doctors in the treatment of tumors, cancer, or conditions such as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
These dental specialists will frequently find employment at existing medical imaging locations, or in academia; as the cost of professional medical imaging equipment is extremely expensive and not conducive to opening a private practice. Their training, including residency and the board certification process, is overseen by the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology.
In order to become a dental radiologist, a candidate must become a Doctor of Dental Surgery of Doctor of Dental Medicine. This is completed in dental school, followed by passing the National Board Dental Examination. Residency training of two years will be completed after becoming a licensed DDS/DMD, followed by completing board certification to become a Diplomate of the AAOMR.
The Educational Steps for Becoming an Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologist
First - Receive a Bachelor Degree
A future oral and maxillofacial radiologist must first complete a bachelor degree program from an accredited university. During this time period, the candidate will focus on core studies in the biological sciences, such as chemistry, physiology, anatomy, and biology. They will also complete educational training in mathematics and communications, and frequently computer science. Due to the complexity of this profession, having a strong background in laboratory studies and advanced computer operation is recommended.
Second – Graduate from Dental School
After receiving the bachelor degree from an accredited university of college, the future oral and maxillofacial radiologist must then apply, and complete dental school education. In the first two years of dental school, the student will focus on elementary dental sciences and procedures in a laboratory and classroom environment. The final two years will extend to clinical exercises in groups, where they learn how to diagnose dental conditions in patients. These clinical exercises are monitored and supervised by existing DDS / DMD professionals. After they have expertly completed the dental school examinations, they will become a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or a DMD (Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry).
The American Dental Association requires an Oral Radiologist to become a DDS or DMD, first by completing and passing the National Board Dental Examinations. This testing process is completed in two separate steps:
First – a written examination that tests the advanced knowledge of all dental procedures and treatments, is completed.
Second – only after passing the first phase will a candidate advance to the clinical phase of this testing.
All US States have specific requirements to become licensed, and often require dentists to continue their education in order to maintain their licensing through attending educational classes or seminars.
Fourth – Complete Residency Training / PhD Training for Educational Career Path
There are two different paths that an OMR can take.
They can become practicing dental radiologists, or they can become teachers by earning a postdoctoral degree.
Residency Training to Become Practicing ORM
The residency program is a two year process that is overseen by the AAOMR. During this phase, the candidate will receive intensive hands-on experience, training in all of the procedures and processes involved in properly diagnosing medical conditions and diseases through imagery. The residency is offered through hospitals, and is always managed and overseen by a board-certified dental radiologist.
The Educational Path – Receiving Postdoctoral Degree
In order to become an instructor of dental radiology, a candidate must complete a postdoctoral degree program. This process takes between two to five years to complete, and will lead to the candidate receiving their MS or PhD. It is offered at only five locations in the United States and Canada, but will cover advanced curriculum studies in many areas including:
These core studies are completed in the residency training program, which makes the educational path one that most OMR's choose to follow, as it also prepares them for future educational opportunities.
Both of these programs are intended to prepare the candidate to complete board certification as overseen by the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology. After completing this process, the candidate is now a Diplomate of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
As medical technology improves, so does the ability to diagnose and treat oral and maxillofacial conditions. According to the BLS, the growth rate for this profession is expected to rise by as much as 20 percent over the next five years. The AAOMR believes that the need for qualified educators to fill retiring positions is rapidly increasing. For this reason the AAOMR actually recommends that future candidates complete the educational training path that earns them a PhD degree so they can eventually become instructors.
Average Salary of an Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologist
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2010 the median salary for oral and maxillofacial radiologists was $162,190. However, one of the biggest contributing factors in average salary for dental specialists is location. As such, these same specialists, practicing in the Northeast or Southwest can expect to earn considerably more; upwards of $245,980, annually.
The skills and abilities to correctly use advanced imagery equipment, accurately read these findings, and recommend corrective action, is what makes the career choice for becoming an oral and maxillofacial radiologist one of the more difficult dental specialties. However, if the candidate has the ability to infuse all of these individual skills, they will find the profession of dental radiologist to be quite rewarding.