Dentists are responsible for their patient’s oral health. They prevent, diagnose and treat conditions that affect the mouth, teeth and gums.
As a dentist, you will perform many different procedures, including extractions, cleaning, replacements and giving oral hygiene advice.
Dentists can specialize into certain areas with some choosing to focus on surgery or other areas. There is a long education process so if you’re considering becoming a dentist you’ll need to take this into account.
The training involves a bachelor degree, a dental degree, licensing and then optional specialization.
With a median salary of $158,310 per year, it’s no wonder that many people choose dentistry as a profession. However, remember this is a medical profession and the training is quite advanced.
If you’re still interested, this guide will take you through the requirements to become a dentist.
Education & Training
As a prospective dentist, you’ll need to hold a bachelor’s degree. There is no specific pre-dental degree, but you will find biology to be a useful degree.
There are mentoring programs such as the Americal Dental Student Association (ASDA), that provide support to you throughout your studies. Make sure that you join as soon as possible and use them to help you gain admission to dental school when you have acquired your bachelor’s degree.
You can also participate in the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, that allows students to take part in a 6-week dental school preparation program. Here you’ll get advice on career development, receive financial advice and get an early understanding of what it’s like to work as a dentist.
Before you can be accepted into a dental program, you must first take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). This assesses your academic capacity and scientific knowledge. You will conduct interviews, gain letters of recommendation, and need to score above the minimum to pass this test.
Once you’ve achieved this you can apply for dental school. This typically lasts for four years and you will receive either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. Programs may be accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation
During your studies, you’ll focus on dental anesthesia, orthodontics, radiology, pharmacology, oral pathology and much more. In your last two years, you will focus on working in a clinical setting under supervision.
Make sure that the school you are going to and the degree you will end up with allows you to be approved for state licensure.
After your degree, you will need to obtain state licensure in order to practice. This requires you to pass the National Board Dental Examinations. These are 2-part written exam that will ensure you have the right knowledge to practice.
They also involve a practical examination.
If you specialize, then your duties will vary, however, general dentistry includes the following:
- Advising patients on oral healthcare
- Diagnosing dental conditions by using tools such as x-rays
- Prescribing treatment options, treatment plans, and medication
- Restoring teeth affected by decay and treating gum disease
- Maintaining patients’ dental records;
- Recruiting, training, and managing staff
- Managing budgets and maintaining stocks of equipment
While you will be qualified as a general dentist, you may wany to consider specializing in a specific area. Oral and maxillofacial pathology, orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics, dental public health and pediatric dentistry are some of the nine specialties that are recognized by the ADA.
This training will take 2 to 4 years of additional education and in some cases, a residency of up to two years before you will earn a specialty state license.
The ADA also offer continuing education courses that focus on areas such as running your own clinic and keeping up with the latest treatment methods such as air abrasion dentistry and crownless bridge work.