Dentists provide care and treatment to maintain the teeth and gums of their patients. They fill cavities, inspect for tooth decay, improve tooth alignment and repair broken or chipped teeth. While some dentists specialize in specific areas such as pediatrics, orthodontics or oral surgery most dentists work as general practitioners. Dentists must earn a degree from an accredited dental school and pass state imposed licensing exams. In addition to private practice, today’s dental school graduates can choose to work in hospital emergency rooms, conduct advanced laboratory research or teach future dentists.
Required Education and Testing
All 50 states require dentists to be licensed. To qualify for a license in most states, a candidate must graduate from a program accredited by the ADA Commission on Dental Accreditation and must pass a written and practical examination. Candidates may fulfill the written segment of the state licensing requirements by passing the National Board Dental Examinations.
Competition for admission into a dental program is highly competitive. Candidates may be eligible for acceptance regardless of their major, and dental programs require a minimum of two years of college-level education; however, most dental students have at least a Bachelor’s degree or emphasize stringent course work in science. Many applicants to dental school major in a science such as biology or chemistry, while other applicants major in subjects requiring numerous science courses. All Dental programs require applicants to pass the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). Testing scores, grade point average and information gathered through an interview process will contribute to an admission decision.
Dental school is typically a four-year program. Students can expect extensive classroom instruction and laboratory work in basic sciences, including anatomy, microbiology, biochemistry, and physiology. Beginning courses in clinical sciences, including laboratory techniques, are also provided early on. During the student’s last two years, students have the opportunity to work in dental clinics, under the supervision of licensed dentists.
In addition to a degree from an accredited dental school, licensing is also required to practice as a dentist. In most states, license requires passing both written and practical examination; candidates may fulfill the written section of the State licensing requirements by passing the National Board Dental Examinations. Individual states or regional testing agencies administer the written or practical examinations. Check your state for local licensing requirement.
Becoming a Dentist
There are currently over 50 dental programs and schools spread throughout the country. The first step in becoming a licensed dentist is to research schools to identify programs that meet personal requirements. There are many resources available including Web searches, information requests, and open houses that will help identify suitable situations.
Take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT):
Once you have narrowed your search, applicants should register to take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT), administered by the American Dental Association. Dental schools use the DAT test scores in the admissions process.
Complete a Dental Program:
Typically, accredited dental programs take three to four years to complete. The first two years are generally spent in classroom and laboratory work where students treat patients while under the supervision of a practicing dentist. Completion of a dental program earns students a Doctor of Dental Surgery or a Doctor of Dental Medicine degree.
After obtaining a degree from an accredited dental school, dentists must pass both practical and written examinations. In most states, candidates take the National Board Dental Examination administered by the ADA for the written exam portion. The state or a regional agency generally administers the practical exam.