Dentists are doctors who treat, diagnose, and work with conditions related specifically to the teeth and surrounding areas in the mouth and gums. They perform a variety of procedures ranging from preventive care, examining X-rays, root canals, filling cavities, and extracting and replacing teeth. In order to become a dentist, you will need to complete a doctoral degree, either a Doctor of Dental Surgery, DDS, or a Doctor of Dental Medicine, DMD. The following is an overview of what education is needed to become a dentist.
Pursue a Bachelor’s Degree
Before you take any dental classes, pre-dental students need to consider an undergraduate degree. Like medical doctors, the field of dentistry is grounded in the physical and biological sciences. All dental schools in the United States require all students to have passing grades in biology with lab, inorganic chemistry with lab, organic chemistry with lab, physics with lab, and at least one semester of English with writing. You can major in anything, as long as you take the necessary courses required to apply for dental school. Many students choose to major in the sciences or liberal arts such as biology, chemistry or anthropology, but some students may also choose to major in more unique fields such as public health, business, or kinesiology. Many dental schools will accept students after they complete their bachelor’s degree,but other dental schools may accept students who are in their final year of undergraduate education. This depends largely on the school.
Dental Admission Test
Prior to applying for any dental schools, prospective students must take the Dental Admissions Test, also known as the DAT. This tests a prospective students educational capacity, and knowledge of the sciences they have mastered. There are four sections: the natural sciences, perceptual ability, which is the ability to interpret two-dimensional representations of three dimensional objects; reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning. This is part of the reason why it is important to take undergraduate science courses of chemistry, biology, and mathematics seriously.
Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Medicine
As previously mentioned, aspiring dentists may choose to become a DDS or a DMD. What is interesting is that both degrees are the same, with the same curriculum requirements. The selection of the degree name is dependent on the school. Dental school is four years long. The first two years are similar to that of medical school. Students take courses specific to immunology, biochemistry, pathology, and pharmacology. Some schools may have sciences specific to dentistry such as oral anatomy, oral physiology, and oral histology. The training for the first two years are often in labs with model patients. After the first two years, students learn about direct clinical care, and are often interacting with real patients in various settings such as dental clinics and hospitals. This supervised clinical learning is done under the direct management of a clinical dental instructor.
All students who wish to practice dentistry must go through a licensure process which often involves three main components of education, a written exam, and a clinical exam. The requirements for licensure are varied within each state. If you would like additional information about what is needed to complete the licensure process in your state, reach out your state dental board.
Pursuing a career as a dentist takes anywhere from seven years to over eight years. If you wish to specialize, you may be in school for more than eight years. Specializations include pediatrics, endodontist, oral surgery, orthodontistry, periodontist, and prosthodontist. This may include more school, or more clinical experience depending on the specialty.