The dental field is prestigious, rewarding on many levels, and can now be approached through online higher education. An internet-based education in dentistry has become possible in recent years for dental administrative assistants, dental lab techs, dental assistants, even dental hygienists. There are also a variety of online courses available for those interested in dental continuing education.
The Internet is used for dental programs to give students an affordable and flexible education. Dental occupations are hands-on and complex, so web-based programs must also make the student feel competent and comfortable in a dental occupation after graduation.
"Everyone needs to learn at a different pace," said Cathy Warschaw, Director of the Warschaw Learning Institute. "Our dental office management program was written to be entertaining and enjoyable, but our graduates are more educated than many already working in the industry. They have been trained properly for the business side of dentistry."
Distance courses typically involve thorough Internet-based assignments, CD/ROMs, streaming videos, online exams, and sometimes web-based labs. Despite the departure from traditional education, most Internet-based programs offer conventional amenities like student service programs, online libraries, and have provisions in place to keep students involved and instructors accessible.
"Our students are assigned an instructor when they register, and are able to call or email that instructor anytime," said Warschaw.
Along with the many advantages of an Internet-based dental curriculum, there are also great responsibilities, so students must be dedicated to their course of study.
"Students have to be more self-disciplined. There are no specific time constraints, so students must create their own schedule. We recommend that they put aside specific times to handle their weekly assignments, and try to adhere to that schedule," said Kris Bickell, Director of Distance Education at the University of Bridgeport.
Dental students may earn certificates in as little as six weeks, or acquire more advanced degrees over longer lengths of time. "Our (Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene) program requires an Associate's degree, so students have already demonstrated their clinical abilities," said Bickell.
Some additional online dental programs include:
A combination of factors usually makes Internet education programs financially sound options. Each program is unique in its cost, flexibility, and payment options. Most online students can work a job while pursuing their degree because of the adaptability of an online school schedule.
"Because our program is accredited, our students are eligible for federal financial aid like any other," Bickell said. "We even have a financial aid department. Online students are usually working, though, so they may not even need assistance."
Other programs are designed to be low-cost, or are brief enough that cost is not typically a problem.
"We have a very reasonable tuition, but we will arrange a payment plan for any student with financial concerns," Warschaw said.
The employment outlook for all dental fields for the future is excellent. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of dental assistants will increase from 267,436 to 381,747, an astounding increase of 42.7%. Dental hygienists should increase by more than 43%, adding a projected 68,360 jobs nationally. Dental laboratory technicians will also increase by 7.6%.
The dental industry is always in need of competent employees, and online graduates will certainly have an edge. Most online institutions do offer students assistance in finding a good job after graduation.
"Our graduates are definitely more employable, and we provide every avenue to help them find a job. We help our students with their resumes, and work to find good job opportunities for our graduates," Warschaw said.
For dental students needing extra flexibility and speed for their education, an Internet higher education program is an excellent choice. Programs are becoming more practical and legitimate, offering non-traditional students educational options—leading to better career opportunities—that have never been possible before.
"We love what we do, and we want to help people get the best out of life," Warschaw said.