Want to Become a Dentist but Unsure Where to Start?
Dentistry is a highly rewarding and fulfilling career that offers excellent job security, high earning potential, and the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives. If you’re considering a career in dentistry, then you’re probably wondering what it takes to become a dentist.
Steps to Take
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
To become a dentist, start by earning your bachelor’s degree. While there’s no specific major required for dental school, most students choose to major in a science-related field, such as biology or chemistry. This is because dental schools require a strong foundation in the sciences, and these majors will provide you with the necessary coursework and set you up for success.
Step 2: Take the Dental Admission Test (DAT)
After you’ve completed your bachelor’s degree, the next step is to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). This test measures your academic abilities and scientific knowledge and is required for admission into dental school. It’s essential to perform well on this exam to increase your chances of admission to dental school. The test consists of four sections:
- Natural sciences
- Perceptual ability
- Reading comprehension
- Quantitative reasoning
Advice on how to prepare for the DAT
To prepare for the DAT, students should take advantage of study resources such as review books, practice exams, and online study guides. You should also develop effective study habits, such as creating a study schedule and practicing time management. Finally, taking a DAT prep course or working with a tutor can provide additional support and guidance to ensure you’re as prepared as possible for the real test.
Step 3: Complete a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) Program
Once you have completed the DAT, you’ll apply to dental school. Dental school is typically a four-year program, and upon completion, you’ll earn either a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree.
During your dental school education, you’ll learn about many topics, including anatomy, physiology, dental materials, and clinical procedures.
The Dental School Application Process
The application process for dental school can be overwhelming for many students. It typically involves submitting transcripts, letters of recommendation, creating a personal statement, and taking the Dental Admission Test (DAT).
To prepare for the application process, students should start researching dental schools early in their undergraduate career and reach out to dental school advisors for guidance. You should also consider taking the DAT early to allow enough time to retake the exam if necessary.
Step 4: Pass the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE)
After your dental school education is complete, you’ll need to pass the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE). This exam is divided into two parts, and it assesses your knowledge of the sciences and clinical skills.
Step 5: Complete a Residency Program (Optional)
While it’s not required to complete a residency program, many dentists choose to do so to gain additional training and experience. A residency program can range from one to three years, and it can provide you with specialized training in areas such as pediatric dentistry, oral and maxillofacial surgery, and orthodontics.
Step 6: Obtain a Dental License
To practice as a dentist, you’ll need to obtain a dental license. The requirements for a dental license vary by state, but they typically include passing a state exam and completing a certain number of continuing education credits each year.
Skills Needed to Become a Dentist
Along with the education and training required to become a dentist, certain skills are essential for success in this field. Necessary skills include:
- Attention to detail: Dentists must be able to pay close attention to small details, as even the most minute mistake can have serious consequences for a patient’s oral health.
- Manual dexterity: Dentistry requires a great deal of manual dexterity, as dentists must be able to work with their hands in small spaces.
- Communication skills: Dental professionals must be able to communicate effectively with patients and with other members of their dental team.
- Problem-solving skills: Dentists must be able to identify and solve problems related to their patient’s oral health.
- Empathy: Dental professionals need to understand and empathize with their patients, particularly those who may be anxious or in pain.
After obtaining a dental license, dentists can continue their education and gain additional training in specialized areas of dentistry. Continuing education courses are offered by dental schools and professional organizations. They often cover topics such as orthodontics, endodontics, and periodontics.
Dentists can also pursue certifications in specialized areas, such as pediatric dentistry or oral and maxillofacial surgery. Continuing education is essential for dentists to stay up-to-date with the latest techniques and technologies in their field and provide the best possible care to their patients.
Types of Dental Practices
There are various types of dental practices aspiring dentists can pursue:
- Private practice is the most common dental practice, where the dentist owns and manages their own practice.
- Group practice involves two or more dentists working together to provide dental care to patients.
- Community health centers provide dental care to underserved populations.
- Academic dentistry involves teaching and research in addition to providing clinical care.
We encourage aspiring dentists to research these types of dental practices to determine which one best aligns with their career goals.
Job Outlook for Dentists
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for dentists is favorable, with the employment of dentists projected to grow by 3 percent from 2020 to 2030, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth is due to an aging population that will need more dental care in the coming years.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to become a dentist?
It typically takes around eight years to become a dentist, including four years of undergraduate study and four years of dental school.
Is it difficult to get into dental school?
Dental school can be competitive, and admission is based on a combination of factors, including your academic record, your DAT scores, and your experience in the field.
How much does a dentist make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pay ranges per state between $124,750 and $233,860. This data was last collected in 2021.
Do dentists have to work long hours?
The work hours for dentists can vary depending on their practice setting, but many dentists work full-time and may work evenings and weekends to accommodate their patients’ schedules.
Start Your Career in Dentistry Today!
Becoming a dentist requires a significant investment of time and effort, but it can be a highly rewarding career for those who are passionate about oral health and helping others. By following the steps outlined in this blog, you can set yourself on the path to a fulfilling career as a dentist.
Remember to develop the necessary skills, such as attention to detail, manual dexterity, communication skills, problem-solving skills, and empathy, that are essential for success in this field. With dedication and hard work, you can achieve your goal of becoming a dentist and making a positive impact on the lives of your patients.