Becoming a Dentist

Closeup portrait of a happy young doctorIf you decided, that the profession of a dentist is for you, prepare for a journey!

Before you can even apply to a dental school, you are required to get your bachelor’s degree first. A lot of students take a degree in science, although it is not required or does not guarantee easy admission to dental school. However, many US dental schools have undergraduate course requirements. If you do not have credit in these courses, your applications will not be considered complete, which means you have to carefully plan your college curriculum ahead.

Once you graduate with a bachelor’s degree, you have to take the Dental Admission test (DAT), which “is designed to measure general academic ability, comprehension of scientific information, and perceptual ability” and includes questions in biology, chemistry, math and reading comprehension. Upon passing the DAT, you can apply to dental school! Your undergraduate grades, score on the DAT, recommendations, and interviews are considered in the admission process. 

If you are accepted, get ready for another four years of rigorous training! You will take didactic and clinical courses, the first ones will teach you anatomy, microbiology, biochemistry, and physiology and in the latter you will learn how to treat patients in the school’s dental clinics, as well as acquire essential knowledge about pedodontics, restorative dentistry, endodontics, dental radiology, oral surgery, removable prosthodontics, fixed prosthodontics, periodontics, and oral diagnosis. While you are undergoing intensive training, it is advised that you work at a dental clinic part time, getting professional experience. If everything goes well, after four years you will graduate with a degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). Before you start celebrating, you need to prepare for the final, key exams before becoming a legitimate dentist – the national and the state board exams!

The national board exam consists of two parts – the first part is student will usually take after your first or second year of dental school (after the basic science curriculum is completed). It is a one-day exam, that consists of 400 questions to be completed in seven hours with 20% being grouped into testlets with interdisciplinary focus on the basic biomedical sciences, dental anatomy, ethics and clinical application.

The second part is generally taken during the third or fourth year of dental school. It is a two-day exam: 400 questions to be completed in seven hours on the first day; 100 case-based questions to be completed in three and a half hours on the second day. It is a comprehensive examination covering clinical dental subjects, including patient management.

Lastly, candidates for dental licenses in most U.S. licensing jurisdictions are subject to a clinical examination requirement. Most state boards of dentistry rely on a regional testing agency, also called a regional board, to administer a clinical examination. 

The purpose of the Part I, Part II and regional state board examinations is to assist state boards in determining qualifications of dentists/dental hygienists who seek licensure to practice dentistry/dental hygiene. As you might guess, the board exams cannot be taken lightly and it is a great accomplishment when you have passed them successfully, because that will mean that after you complete your education at the dental school, you will be a licensed dentist and can start practicing! Congratulations, you can start your career as a dentist! You can open your own practice or become an associate or a partner at an existing one.

After dental school graduation, you can go on to study a few more years to acquire a specialization in one of the following areas:

  • Dental Public Health
  • Endodontics
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
  • Pediatric Dentistry
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics

If you believe that you want to become a specialist you will need to need to be at the top of your class in dental school and be involved in research and/or other extracurricular activities. The competition for dental specialty programs is rigorous and only the very top candidates will earn a position.

The journey of becoming a dentist is not an easy one but it is definitely rewarding. Best of luck to all of you out there perusing this wonderful career!


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