How to Become a Dentist

Training and Education Jobs and Salaries

All 50 States and the District of Columbia require dentists to be licensed. To qualify for a license in most States, candidates must graduate from an accredited dental school and pass written and practical examinations.There are 56 dental schools accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation. Dental schools require a minimum of two years of college-level predental education prior to admittance.

Most dental students have at least a bachelor degree before entering dental school, although a few applicants are accepted to dental school after two or three years of college and complete their bachelors degree while attending dental school. High school and college students who want to become dentists should take courses in biology, chemistry, physics, health, and mathematics. College undergraduates planning on applying to dental school are required to take many science courses.

Because of this, some choose a major in a science, such as biology or chemistry, while others take the required science coursework while pursuing a major in another subject. All dental schools require applicants to take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). When selecting students, schools consider scores earned on the DAT, applicants grade point averages, and information gathered through recommendations and interviews. Competition for admission to dental school is keen. Dental school usually lasts four academic years.

Studies begin with classroom instruction and laboratory work in science, including anatomy, microbiology, biochemistry, and physiology. Beginning courses in clinical sciences, including laboratory techniques, are also completed. During the last two years, students treat patients, usually in dental clinics, under the supervision of licensed dentists.

Most dental schools award the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS). Others award an equivalent degree, Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). Some dental school graduates work for established dentists as associates for one to two years to gain experience and save money to equip an office of their own.

Most dental school graduates, however, purchase an established practice or open a new one immediately after graduation. Licensing is required to practice as a dentist. In most States, licensure requires passing written and practical examinations in addition to having a degree from an accredited dental school. Candidates may fulfill the written part of the State licensing requirements by passing the National Board Dental Examinations.

Individual States or regional testing agencies administer the written or practical examinations.Seventeen States licensed or certified dentists who intended to practice in a specialty area. Requirements include two to four years of postgraduate education and, in some cases, the completion of a special State examination. Most State licenses permit dentists to engage in both general and specialized practice. Dentistry requires diagnostic ability and manual skills.

Dentists should have good visual memory, excellent judgment regarding space, shape, and color, a high degree of manual dexterity, and scientific ability. Good business sense, self-discipline, and good communication skills are helpful for success in private practice. Dentists who want to teach or conduct research usually spend an additional two to five years in advanced dental training, in programs operated by dental schools or hospitals. A recent survey by the American Dental Education Association showed that over ten percent of new graduates enrolled in postgraduate training programs to prepare for a dental specialty.