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How to Become a Dentist

How to Become a Dentist

The D.M.D. and the D.D.S. are dentist degrees that are awarded to students upon completion of dental programs.

While many graduates enter general practice after graduation, some choose additional education in a residency program or a specialty area.

Whatever route, you must first get an undergraduate degree, followed by dentistry school, and then get your license.

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)

You have to get your bachelor's degree if you want to go to dentistry school. Some dental schools will let you finish out your undergrad study in the program after about 2 or 3 years of college.

There is no specific pre-dental major, but it wouldn't hurt to take a pre-med major as it will give you the prerequisites in biology, chemistry, math, and physics you need for dentistry school.

A pre-med major could look like the following:

Grade Level Example Courses
Freshman
  • General Chemistry I & Lab
  • General Chemistry II & Lab
  • Biology & Lab
  • Calculus I
  • Physics I & Lab Physics II & Lab
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
Sophomore
  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab
  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab
  • Fundamentals of Microbiology & Lab
  • Genetics
  • Physiology
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
Junior
  • Cell Structure & Function
  • General Virology & Lab
  • Microbial Genetics & Lab
  • Biochemistry I
  • Biochemistry II
  • Physics
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
Senior
  • Upper Level Biology
  • Upper Level Chemistry
  • Upper Level Physics
  • Upper Level Psychology
  • Upper Level Kinesiology Electives

2. Take the Dental Admission Test (DAT)

After your undergrad you will need to go to dental school and to do that you need to take and pass the Dental Admission Test (DAT). To get into dental school you need to have a good DAT score, undergrad GPA, interviews and letters of recommendation.

The DAT is designed to measure general academic ability, comprehension of scientific information, and perceptual ability. The DAT is administered year round.

The DAT is comprised of multiple-choice questions and consists of four tests:

  • Survey of the Natural Sciences
  • Perceptual Ability
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Quantitative Reasoning

In the DAT, both the U.S. customary system and the metric system (Imperial System, International System) of units are used.

Section Section Breakdown
Survey of the Natural Sciences
  • 100 multiple-choice questions
  • Tests Genetics, Biology, Ecology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Microbiology
Perceptual Ability
  • 90 multiple-choice questions
  • Test is comprised of six subtests: 1) apertures, 2) view recognition, 3) angle discrimination, 4) paper folding, 5) cube counting, and 6) 3D form development.
Reading Comprehension
  • 50 items
  • The Reading Comprehension Test contains three reading passages on various scientific topics.
  • The reading passages require the ability to read, comprehend, and thoroughly analyze basic scientific information.
Quantitative Reasoning
  • 40 multiple choice questions
  • Mathematical Problems
  • Tests your comprehension of Algebra, Numeric Calculations, Conversions, Probability and Statistics, Geometry, and Trigonometry

3. Earn a Dental Degree (4 Years)

Dental school usually lasts four years and results in a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. You need to find a program that is accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation.

During the first two years of dental school, students focus on classroom and laboratory studies in health and dental science. Courses may include the following:

  • Oral pathology
  • Peridontics
  • Dental Anesthesia
  • Orthodontics
  • Radiology
  • Pharmacology

The last two years emphasize clinical practice in which students diagnosis and treat patients under the supervision of dental instructors.

4. Earn the Required License

After dental school you must get your state license. Requirements vary by state, but all states require candidates to pass the National Board Dental Examinations.

The 2-part written exam covers dental sciences, ethics and clinical procedures:

Section Section Breakdown
NBDE Part I
  • 400 exam items
  • Tests Anatomic Sciences, Biochemistry-Physiology, Microbiology-Pathology, and Dental Anatomy and Occlusion
NBDE Part II
  • 500 exam items
  • Test is comprised of a Discipline-Based Component and a Case-Based Component

Learn more about the National Exam

After the national exam, you have to pass a practical exam given by your state licensing board. Check with your state to determine your requirements.

5. Consider a Specialization

While dentists usually go into general dentistry, some choose specialty areas. Post-DMD or post-DDS education options are available to licensed dentists.

There are nine specialties to choose from:

  • Oral and maxillofacial pathology
  • Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics
  • Dental public health
  • Endodontics
  • Pediatric dentistry
  • Oral and maxiollofacial radiology
  • Prosthodontics
  • Peridontics
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery

Becoming a specialist can take up to 4 years of additional education and, in some cases, will involve a residency of up to two years.