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How to Become a Dentist

Dentistry can be an exciting career. You may want to become a dentist because you are interested in oral health and have a passion to help people. Becoming a dentist takes a lot of education, but after you finish your schooling, you will be ready for a challenging and rewarding career.


EditCompleting Your Education

  1. Get a bachelor’s degree in a science-related field. The most beneficial undergraduate degree is one in pre-dentistry or a science. Degrees in science-related fields help you meet any prerequisites you will have when entering dental school. While in school, you should focus on getting good grades, learning as much as you can, and developing good study habits.[1]
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    • All US dental schools have undergraduate course requirements, which will be published on their websites. For example, most require that you take prerequisite courses in many sciences, including biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy, biochemistry, and physiology.
    • You should also consider taking art and business classes.
  2. Gather letters of recommendation. When you are applying for dental school, you will need to submit letters of recommendation along with your application. You should choose people who know your work ethic and characteristics, so they can provide strong and supportive letters for you.[2]
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    • You can get letters from professors and any dentists you have shadowed or worked with during your undergraduate studies.
  3. Apply for admission to a dental school. Most applicants apply to more than one dental school. You should only apply to dental schools that are accredited by the ADA's Commission on Dental Accreditation or a similar accreditation organization for your country.
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    • Your undergraduate grades, score on the DAT, recommendations, extracurriculars, and interviews are considered in the admission process.
  4. Complete coursework at a dental school. When you go to dental school, you will receive a doctorate degree. A standard program is four years, which includes coursework and clinicals. You can get a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medical Dentistry (DMD). These are the same degree. The only difference is the name. The dental school you go to will give out one or the other.[3] You can also become a specialist, which will take a few years longer.[4]
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    • The most important thing to make sure that you do is choose a program accredited by a dental organization, like the Commission on Dental Accreditation.
  5. Take the required steps if you want to become a specialist. After you finish dental school, you may decide that you want to do something more specialized than general dentistry. If this is your wish, you will need to become a specialist. Becoming a specialist requires acceptance into a residency or postgraduate program. Then, you will continue with postgraduate education for two to six years, depending on the specialty.
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    • The competition for dental specialty programs is rigorous and only the very top candidates will earn a position. You will need to need to be at the top of your class in dental school and be involved in research or other extracurricular activities.
    • There are nine recognized dental specialties: Dental Public Health, Endodontics, Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Radiology, or Surgery, Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, Pediatric Dentistry, Periodontics, and Prosthodontics.[5]

EditObtaining Certifications

  1. Get a high score on the Dental Acceptance Test. To get into dental school, you will have to take the Dental Acceptance Test (DAT). This test is given by the American Dental Association. The test has 280 questions and takes five hours to complete. An average score on this test is 19 out of 30. It is taken about a year and a half before you start dental school. Most people take it in the spring or summer of their junior year of undergrad.[6]
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    • The test contains a lot of questions related to natural sciences, along with reading comprehension and quantitative reasoning.
    • A high score on this test is important because dental school is very competitive. For example, some of the top dental schools in the country had hundreds of applicants, but only accepted between 100 and 200.
  2. Pass the National Board Dental Examination written test. After you complete your degree at an accredited school, you need to meet the requirements to get your license. In most places, this requires that you take exams after receiving your degree. Usually, one exam is a written test that tests your basic knowledge of the field.[7]
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    • Your dental school will probably arrange the test for the graduating class to take together.
  3. Pass your clinical exams. Your state or area will grant your license to practice dentistry. In the US, the exams may vary from state to state. These exams are clinical and require you to perform treatment on patients. If you plan to practice in your dental school's state, then your dental school will often host the exam annually or semiannually.[8]
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    • Some states accept a regional exam, such as the Western Regional Examining Board or the Northeast Regional Board.

EditGetting a Job

  1. Volunteer in a dental office. Most dental schools want to see students who are well-rounded, with good grades and extracurricular activities. You can get some experience and improve your dental school application by finding volunteer work in a dental office. Talk to one of your professors or contact local dentist’s offices to ask about volunteer opportunities.[9]
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    • You may be able to shadow a dentist or help in the office.
  2. Observe a dentist. During your studies, you will complete observations of dentists to learn more about what it is like to be a dentist and whether or not you want to be a dentist. You may also be able to shadow a dentist before you apply to dental school to make sure it is the right fit for you.[10]
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  3. Get professional experience. If you can manage your time effectively, get a part-time job in a dental office as a dental assistant or receptionist while you are in dental school. You may not be able to work more than 10 hours a week. However, this will help you gain much needed behind-the-scenes experience at a dental office that you will not learn in dental school.
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  4. Decide where you want to work. After you graduate from dental school, you have a few options for jobs. You can open your own practice or join a private practice with other dentists. You may also be able to work in a hospital. Some dentists will go to work for organizations doing lab research, and others will find jobs teaching at dental schools.[11]
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    • Some areas, like large cities, have many dentists and the job market is more difficult and competitive. Many graduates from dental school find more job opportunities in rural or inner city communities.
  5. Find an associateship position. Most people who have just graduated from dental school generally get an associateship position with an established dentist who have their own practice. If you get a position this way, you will work with a dentist until you gain experience and decide to open your own practice.[12]
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    • You can find these positions through your dental school or dental organization career boards.

EditIdentifying the Specific Characteristics of a Dentist

  1. Make sure you are a hard worker. If you are interested in becoming a dentist, you should learn what will be required of you in this profession. You will be responsible for providing people with dental care. You will have to administer local anesthetics, look at x-rays, and come up with a treatment plan for your patients.[13]
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    • You will also have to remove cavities and do fillings and give cleanings. You may have to do some minor oral surgery, like root canals, or treat people with periodontal disease.
    • A dentist who runs their own practice may have to work more than 60 hours weekly early in their career.
  2. Have good manual dexterity. Because dentists use their hands, often doing precision work in tiny, hard to reach areas, you will need to have outstanding manual dexterity. Your fine motor skills are imperative to your success as a dentist. Working with your hands is an important part of your career.[14]
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    • To improve these skills, find a hobby that uses your hands and fingers. For example, you can play an instrument, draw and paint, make models, or play video games.
    • You can also work on your hand strength by using objects to work the muscles, like putty, balls, or a squeeze grip.
  3. Make sure you have compassion. Most people who want to be dentists have a desire to help people. Dentists should have good bedside manner and genuinely want to interact with people. You need to be compassionate because many people who visit the dentist will be scared or have anxiety. You need to be able to compassionately treat these patients.
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    • Start practicing compassion in your everyday life. Be a friend to others and listen when they talk. Volunteer your time and give of yourself in the community. Try to think about other people's situations and put yourself in their shoes.
  4. Develop your problem-solving skills. Dentists need to have problem-solving skills. This helps you figure out the best treatment for patients. Some patients may not be able to undergo the standard treatment procedure, so you have to be able to come up with alternatives.
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    • To improve your problem solving skills, think about identifying the problem and approaching it logically. Come up with possible solutions to the problem, and encourage input from others.
  5. Focus on time management. Dentists need to be able to manage their time so they can perform the needed procedures in a reasonable amount of time. Most dentists will see numerous patients each day and need to be as quick and efficient as possible.
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    • Start making schedules for your days. Prioritize what needs to be done and what you can do later. Plan time in your day for classes, work, and studying, along with food, relaxation, physical activity, and sleep.
  6. Develop good leadership skills. No dentist works alone, and most dentists oversee a team of healthcare professionals. This means you will need to be a strong leader when you are a dentists. Dentists will be over others in the office, such as dental assistants and dental hygienists.
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    • Good leaders are knowledgeable, kind, firm, and decisive. They keep their word, dress respectfully, and treat others with respect.

EditSources and Citations

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How to Become a Dentist


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