Oral Radiologist

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Oral Radiologist


Getting x-rays at the dentist may require more specialized forms of radiology tests. Oral radiology is the branch of dentistry that deals with the prescription, production and interpretation of diagnostic images (most notably x-rays) for the diagnosis and management of diseases and disorders of the craniofacial complex. They are dental specialists who have successfully completed an accredited advanced educational program in oral and maxillofacial radiology and currently hold a specialty designation.

Oral radiologists take special x-rays of the head, facial, neck and jaw area and interpret the radiographs. They use enhanced imaging techniques for diagnostic purposes, such as locating tumors, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, infectious diseases of the jaw and in trauma cases.

X-rays may also represent routine cases where accuracy of measurement and identification of landmarks is of serious importance. When you go to your general dental practitioner, they too take radiographs of your face, however, if something shows up on the film, you may be sent to an oral radiologist for a second, and more knowledgeable opinion. Oral radiologists also provide advice in regulatory compliance to the government, as well as to the dental profession, in the use and advances in radiological technology. Most requests for radiology services come from referrals from dentists and physicians.

Oral radiologists recommend treatment for these conditions and refer patients to oral surgeons. In the x-rays, they find solutions for tooth extractions, treatment for traumatic injuries to the face and jaws, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, pathology, and reconstruction of portions of the facial bones missing as a result of trauma or surgery to remove abnormal conditions.

Oral radiologists work in close cooperation with general dentists, physicians, and other specialties. Many find the opportunity for collaboration with peers a stimulating plus. Oral radiologist recognize that educating patients about the procedures they perform is a critical element in providing the highest quality patient care.
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  Interests and Skills  
Oral radiologists must have good health, eyesight, and good finger and manual dexterity. They must have a gentle, delicate touch and a good degree of mechanical aptitude and ability. They require great interpersonal skills, and can communicate with all of their patients, trying to make them feel more comfortable. They also have the ability to understand and handle many different types and ages of people. Successful oral radiologists enjoy doing precise work with tools and equipment, and helping people treat diseases of the mouth.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Consult with patients about radiographs of their teeth, gums, necks, facial features and surrounding tissue to plan and recommend appropriate surgical treatment
  • Take x-rays and radiographs of the craniofacial region
  • Educate patients to help to prevent future dental diseases
  • Refer patients to surgeons for oral surgery and other maxillofacial treatments
  • Supervise dental technicians, dental assistants and other staff
  • Most oral radiologists work eight-hour days during the week, but in order to meet patient time constraints, some may also work weekends and evenings. An on-call schedule may be a necessary aspect of this speciality. Trauma and other emergency situations necessitate prompt emergency care by an oral radiologist. Oral radiology can be a high stress occupation due to working with people who are in pain and are often afraid of them.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Most oral radiologists work in clinical settings, such as hospitals, dental clinics, outpatient surgical centers, public health facilities, universities or own their own private practices. Directly upon graduation, they may engage in private practice, however, these days, partnerships with established dental practitioners and group practices are becoming increasingly popular. Better opportunities exist in smaller towns and city centers where the market has yet to be saturated. Some oral radiologists work for government health services.

  Long Term Career Potential  
A broad range of career options is available including private practice, hospital practice, teaching, and research. Otherwise, since it takes so many years of school to become an oral radiologist, once established, they usually stay within the industry and move into more supervisory positions. Oral radiologists are usually affiliated with local and regional hospitals.

  Educational Paths  
Oral radiologists have a long educational road ahead of them after high school. They are required have a bachelor of science degree, or at least two years of undergraduate education along with passing an entrance exam to dental school. The next step is to obtain a degree from a recognized dental program. Then oral radiologists must take a two-year program in oral radiology to receive a certificate and/or master's degree in oral radiology, upon completion of the program. An additional two to four years may be spent obtaining a joint MD or a PhD degree depending on individual career goals.

Oral radiologists must be licensed to practice dentistry and oral radiology. Each region has a licensing body that establishes regulations and requirements for the licensure of general practitioners and specialists within the jurisdiction. Contact the regulatory authority in your jurisdiction to obtain detailed information about licensure, registration, and fees.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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