Dentists are a type of professional whose job is to diagnose and treat conditions with the mouth, teeth and gums, providing both preventative and corrective care to patients. Dentists have great earning potential and are growing in demand to meet the needs of Americans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for dentists in 2016 was close to $160,000. Dentists can have their own private practice, work in public health dentistry, spend their lives in an academic dentist career, or work in hospital dentistry.
It takes many years of education and training requirements to become a dentist. How many years does it take to become a doctor of Dental Science/Surgery? Expect to be in school for at least eight years. Four of those years will be spent earning your undergraduate degree. The other four years will be spent in dental school. If you choose to specialize in an advanced area, you may also spend up to an additional four years in school including a two-year residency. You might choose to focus in any of nine specialty areas: Dental Public Health, Endodontics, Oral And Maxillofacial Pathology, Oral And Maxillofacial Radiology, Oral And Maxillofacial Surgery, Orthodontics And Dentofacial Orthopedics, Pediatric Dentistry, Periodonics And Prosthodontics.
If you’re interested in becoming a dentist, here are the basic steps to follow.
1) Obtain a High School Diploma
Completing high school is the first step to becoming a dentist. If you’re still in high school, pay attention especially in your science classes, taking advanced placement courses if possible. Job shadowing while you’re in high school can give you an idea of what it will be like working as a dentist and help you decide whether you truly want to pursue a career in dentistry.
You’ll be applying for college soon. Focus on maintaining a good GPA and preparing for the SAT or ACT tests. Scoring well on college entrance exams will help you get into the college of your choice. After you’ve taken a college entrance exam, you should begin applying for college in your senior year.
2) Earn a Bachelor’s Degree.
Before going to dental school, you’ll have to earn a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university. What subjects are needed to become a dentist vary, but you will want to focus on the sciences. Majoring in physics, biology, or chemistry can help prepare you for dental school as well as the science courses you’ll take as you advance through your educational requirements.
As an alternative to attending a four-year college or university, you might be able to attend a three-year pre-dental program before entering dental school. If you’ve already selected a dental school, you can check their entry requirements to see whether a three-year program is acceptable. Note that you’ll often need to have excellent grades to get into dental school after completing a three-year dental program.
Regardless of your undergraduate degree, you’ll need to take at least 8 hours each of Biology with lab, Physics, English, General Chemistry with Lab, and Organic Chemistry with lab.
While you’re earning your undergraduate degree, it can help to join a mentoring program or participate in a dental school prep program in the summers. Get to know some of your professors, particularly those in the sciences, since you’ll need to get recommendation letters from them when you’re ready to apply for dental school. Being involved in extracurricular activities like volunteer work and student leadership can also make you a competitive candidate for dental school.
3) Take the Dental Admission Test
Before you can apply to dental school, you’ll have to take the Dental Admission Test, which is administered by the American Dental Association. The multiple-choice test covers natural sciences, reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning, and perceptual ability. How you score on the DAT will determine which dental school you’re likely to be approved for. Many dental schools have a minimum score they’ll accept from applicants.
Don’t take for granted that you can wing the test based on your memory of undergraduate school. Use software, books, and taking prep courses to help prepare you for the test and help you achieve a higher score. Otherwise you will find it is hard to become a dentist.
4) Choose and Apply for Dental School
Once you narrow down your dental school, submit applications to the dental schools of your choice. After receiving your application, each school will evaluate your application based on your DAT score, grade point average, interview, and letters of recommendation. Choosing from more than 60 dental schools that are accredited by the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation is important. Some states require you to attend an accredited school to receive a state license.
Admission to dental school is competitive. You can and should start applying for dental school as early as your senior year in your undergraduate program. Applying early helps ensure you get an interview early and gives you a better chance of being accepted. You can make the application process easier by subscribing to the Associated American Dental Schools Application Service. This service allows you to complete just one application and apply to multiple dental schools.
If a school is interested in having you enroll in their dental program, you’ll receive an invitation to interview. Prepare your for your interview by practicing answering potential questions. Practicing with a friend or relative can help you get used to answering questions with another person. Dress professional for the interview and follow up with thank you letters to everyone you interview.
How much does it cost to go to dental school? Much like your undergraduate degree the expenses associated with dental school can vary widely. Things like financial aid, living expenses, in state or out of state tuition, and public or private will play significant roles. And don’t forget tuitions continue to rise, and dental school costs are no exception. According to the American Dental Association (ADA) the average 4 year dental school costs in a 2015-2016 study were $224,860 for residents and $295,678 for non-residents.
5) Earn Your Dental Degree
Once you receive an acceptance letter from the dental school of your choice, write back to let them know you’ve accepted. Expect to be in dental school for four years. Upon graduation, you’ll earn either a Doctor of Dental Surgery or a Doctor of Dental Medicine degree. Many students need assistance paying for medical school and seek scholarship or assistance through one or more dental organizations including:
• American Dental Association Foundation
• American Dental Education Association
• American School Health Association
• Chinese American Medical Society
• The Gallagher Student Health Careers Scholarship Program
• Hispanic Dental Association
• International Association for Dental Research
• National Dental Association Foundation
• Federal Student Aid
A residency isn’t required for general dentistry, but the advanced training is required if you decide to specialize. The residency can last up to three years.
6) Secure Your State License
You must receive a license from your state to practice dentistry. The same would apply to becoming a dental hygienist and other professional members of dental office staff. You’ll have to pass the National Board Dental Examinations – a two-part exam which tests your knowledge of dental sciences, ethics, and clinical evaluations. You also have to pass a practical examination. You won’t be graded on this test – it’s pass/fail only.
Participate in Continuing Education
Once you become a dentist, the learning never ends. Continuing your education, staying abreast of the latest developments in technology and research will help you continue to provide quality care to your patients.