What's the Educational Route to Dentistry?

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Before a dentist can start to practice their profession, they must first undergo years of education and training. Because of the number of choices you have during your school years, it can be difficult to know exactly what you should be doing in order to achieve your aim of becoming a dental professional. Below we look at the different stages of education and training.

High School

If you want to become a dentist, your journey begins in high school. While at this point you will not be studying anything specifically about dentistry, it is important you maintain a high GPA across all subjects. Your GPA will be one of the main indicators that a college will look at during the admission process.

College

In most cases, you will need to study for a bachelor’s degree before being admitted to dental school. Your bachelor’s degree should be in a science subject, such as chemistry, biochemistry, biology, or physics. Each dental school has its own individual requirements, so it is important that you take the time to research them before you get too far into your bachelor’s degree.

The Dental Acceptance Test

To gain entry to dental school you will need to pass the Dental Acceptance Test (DAT). You should take the DAT during the junior year of your undergraduate degree. The DAT is conducted by the American Dental Association, and consists of four multiple choice exams which test your knowledge and abilities in the following areas:

  • Reading Comprehension
  • Natural Sciences
  • Perceptual Ability
  • Quantitive Reasoning

You may sit the DAT up to three times, but must wait at least 90 days between each attempt. In some cases, if you receive special permission, the DAT can be taken a fourth time.

Doctor of Dental Surgery, or Doctor of Dental Medicine

There are two types of dental degree programs which prepare students to work as a dentist; the Doctor of Dental Surgery degree and the Doctor of Dental Medicine degree. The difference between the two degrees is mostly in name only, as they are both based on the American Dental Association’s curriculum, and both are accepted by state licensing boards. The course involves both didactic and clinical elements, such as:

  • Anatomy
  • Oral Surgery
  • Oral Diagnosis
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Pedonotics
  • Endodontics
  • Microbiology

National and State Licensing Exams

Licensing laws vary from state to state. You should contact the dental board of the state where you wish to work for further information on their particular licensing requirements.

The Joint Commission of National Dental Examinations conducts the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE), which is a pass or fail test. You must pass this test in order to be able to practice dentistry in any state. Your dental school may arrange for you to take this test as part of your training.

Some states also require dentists to take state or regional exams. These are clinical tests which require dental students to perform procedures on patients.

Training to become a dentist takes many years of hard work and training, so start planning today if you want to become the dentist of tomorrow!

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