How to Become a Dentist - Dentist Education Requirements

Dentistry is a doctorate-level medical profession. It deals with the diagnosis and treatment of teeth, gums and surrounding oral tissues.

Dentistry works on the principles of providing preventive care, treating acute dental problems and maintaining oral health.

Like any other medical profession, dentists require specific qualifications to be able to practice professionally in a dental clinic.

General dentists perform several dental procedures like fillings, root canal treatments, and aesthetic restorations.

Becoming a dentist requires patience and hard work. A dentist has to pass a lot of tests before getting accepted to a dental school.

Once accepted in a dental school, the dental student has to complete a training program before they can work in a clinical setup.

The road to becoming a successful dentist is very long. Having said that, dentistry is the most rewarding profession.

Here is the list of educational requirements for our aspiring dentists. Let’s go straight into the article to learn more about dentistry.

Who is a dentist?

Dentists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases of the mouth. Furthermore, they educate their patients on proper oral care and preventative methods. (1)

A dentist typically performs dental procedures like restorations, root canal treatments, preventive treatments for tooth decay and gum diseases.

Some dentists chose to work in a private clinic, while others decide to specialize in a particular dental branch. For example, a pedodontist specializes in treating the teeth and gums of children and adolescents.

What are the educational requirements to become a licensed dentist in the U.S?

To become a qualified dentist in the United States, you must fulfill some basic criteria –

Dental Admission Test

Dental admission test or DAT is a pre-requisite for every pre-dental student to become eligible for applying to dental schools. (2)

Pre-dental students usually start their preparation from high school and attempt to clear DAT at least a year before applying to dental schools.

The syllabus of DAT is typically based on high school subjects. In addition to this, a pre-dental student can also make their profile better by attending certain biology classes or any other science course.

Attending a dental school

There are specific requirements that a dental student may have to fulfill to get accepted in a dental school.

  • DAT scores
  • Good GPA
  • Some amount of shadowing experience in a dental clinic
  • A handful of the well-written letter of recommendations
  • Having a good number of study hours in science subjects may not be necessary. But it increases the chances of acceptance in a dental school

Professional dental programs take four years to complete the training. The first two years are focused on pre-clinical preparation. The last two years expose dental students to real-world dental clinics.

After successful competition of the program, a dental student earns the degree of DDS which stands for Doctor of Dental Surgery or DMD which stands for Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry.

Both degrees hold equal importance. The only difference is the name.

Passing additional dental board exams

After completing dental school, a dentist is required to pass the National Board Dental Examinations. These exams are divided into two parts.

The first part comprises of the pre-clinical subjects and the second part is a test on clinical knowledge. (3)

Most states in the U.S have NBDE as a clinical requirement to get licensure for practice.

Although some states may exempt you from giving NBDE like California and Ohio, you can skip the national board exams and complete a postgraduate specialization program to be able to practice in a dental office.

Some states like New York has made post-graduation mandatory to be eligible for licensure to practice dentistry. (4)

Considering to become a specialist

Specialization can be done in any branch of dentistry. Around 20% of the dentists in the United States are specialists like an oral surgeon, pedodontist, endodontist, etc.

Specialization in dentistry requires additional clinical training. Sometimes, this adds up to an extra six years to complete post-graduation in dentistry.

What are the career challenges faced by a dentist?

Dentistry is a challenging field of medicine. One of the biggest challenges is to complete educational requirements.

Other challenges include the cost of tuition and a great deal of competition to get accepted in a dental school.

Once you’ve earned your DDS degree, the challenge to run your own business in the real world stands right in front of you.

Managing your staff, looking after finances, administration and treating patients are common challenges faced by every dentist.

What is the status of employment in dentistry?

Dentistry is continuously evolving. The dental field is expected to grow by at least 16% in 2019. (5)

Most of the dental practitioners are self-employed and run their clinic. Few of them work in a hospital.

About 20% of the dentists are specialists in the U.S. On an average dentists hold around 141,000 jobs in the United States.

What is the average income of a dentist?

While dentistry may seem to be challenging, the main attraction of the dental field is a balanced life and the pay.

An average salary of a dental professional round up to $ 142,870 per year. Dentists who own a private practice earn more than an employed dentist.

As fascinating as it may sound, most dentists spend their money in recovering from the tuition debts. But once you’ve gotten rid of your loan, it’s a comfortable and smooth path.

Over to you

Dental professionals take care of the oral health of their patients and treat the teeth, gums and other oral issues to provide beautiful smiles.

Becoming a dentist requires a lot of dedication and hard work. From passing a series of tests to completing a dental training program, a dentist continuously works towards perfecting clinical skills.

Along with a big list of requirements, dentistry also comes with a lot of challenges. Some challenges may include studying with a student loan and setting up your clinic.

As difficult as it may sound, dentistry is equally exciting and rewarding.