How To Become A Dentist
Dentists are an essential aspect of medicine. They keep our teeth, gums and mouth healthy, which in turn leads to better overall health and a longer lifespan. Without dentists, we would not have anybody to fill our cavities, or straighten are teeth with braces, or do the various other important tasks that only trained dentists can perform.
What Does A Dentist Do?
Dentists are licensed medical professionals who treat patients’ teeth, gums and mouth issues. They take part in diagnosing these problems, and communicating with patients the importance of oral health and preventive practices. They advocate for the care of their patients’ teeth and gums, and diets that align with good oral hygiene.
Dentists do more than just clean the plaque from your teeth. Being a dentist requires a lot of education and often specialized training to do tasks such as administering local anesthetics, reviewing x-rays, fitting prosthetics, performing root canals, and removing or filling teeth.
When becoming a dentist, you can either choose the route of general dentistry or go into one of the many concentrated fields that dentistry offers. Many dentists choose to open their own practice or work with a team of dentists.
When working as a sole proprietor in a practice, it is the responsibility of the dentist to hire, train and oversee their staff which includes dental assistants, hygienists, and administrative workers.
Becoming A Dentist
To become a dentist, you need to determine whether this is the right field for you.
- Dentists need to possess high aptitudes for science, specifically biology.
- They also need to have great manual dexterity for maneuvering with small tools inside the space of patients’ mouths.
- And as with all professions, dentists need to possess good communication skills to communicate effectively with their patients, and staff.
Becoming a dentist takes time, and a lot of it. Outlined below is the general trajectory one must take to become a licensed, practicing dentist.
- Bachelor’s Degree: You will need to get a Bachelor’s degree and take the necessary undergraduate courses. This step could take anywhere from 3 to 4 years, depending on what kind of undergraduate school you choose to go to, and how quick you choose to complete it. It’s a good idea to enroll in pre-dentistry or a health related major in undergraduate, if you know that becoming a dentist is your goal.
Getting a Bachelors’ degree in the US, of course requires that you first have a high school diploma or GED. Some classes to think about taking in high school that will help you with your required undergraduate work include:
- Dental Admissions Test (DAT): Taking the DAT test is required for admittance into a dental school.
- The test is administered by the American Dental Association.
- It requires that you pay a fee and schedule a time to take the test on your own.
- The test includes 280 questions and takes approximately five hours to complete.
- The major components of the DAT test include a focus on reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning, and the natural sciences.
Admissions acceptance for dentals across the nation is highly competitive. Therefore, getting a good score on the DAT is so important, t help you stand out from the crowd and have a better chance of getting accepted to the school of your choice.
- The average score is 19 out of 30 points.
- The average acceptance rate for dental schools 15%.
- Apply for Dental School: Dental graduate schools in the US typically last for four years. It’s important to only apply to schools that are accredited by the ADA’s Commission on Dental Accreditation. A lot of things factor into your acceptance into Dental school including:
- Undergraduate coursework
- DAT scores
Once you’ve gotten into a dental school, you will spend the next four years completing your doctoral degree in dentistry. In dental school in the United States, you can enter two types of programs in order to become a licensed dentist.
- Doctor of Dental Surgery
- Doctor of Dental Medicine
Both programs have similar coursework, and both will lead you to the goal of becoming a licensed dentist.
- Become Licensed: You will be required to take both the National and State board exams to become a recognized licensed dentist in whichever state you may choose to practice.
- National Board Exam: These exams are generally given out in written format, and are often sanctioned by your graduate school to your entire graduating class.
- State Board Exam: Only the state you choose to practice in can grant you a license to practice dentistry.
- A few states require that you pass their individual state monitored board exam to be qualified for a state license.
- Other states are more liberal in the exam process, and allow a regional exam that covers many states such as the “Northeast Regional Board.”
Either way, the State Board Exam involves clinical testing. This means that you will be performing real treatment on real live patients. Because state laws regarding dentistry license often change, it’s a good idea to get in touch with your state’s dental board for more up to date exam and license information.
Overviews Of Coursework
Every dental school in the US has undergraduate course requirements. Some undergraduate universities have pre-dental tracks that the necessary courses built into the program.
For most dental school applications, if you do not have credits in the required course work, your application will be considered incomplete. Most dental schools require the same kind of general coursework that can be used as a guideline when thinking about what undergraduate courses you should take. Although, each school has their own unique set of required credits and courses that you should research before applying.
- Credits in coursework that are required for admission into dental school:
- General and organic chemistry
It’s also a good idea to take additional courses that may help you succeed in graduate school and in your professional career. These courses include:
- Anatomy, which can give you a head start in preparing for graduate course.
- A 2D or 3D studio art class that can give you an understanding of where you stand with your own fine motor skills.
- Business management and accounting classes if you’re considering opening your own practice.
Job Description / Responsibilities
Once you’ve done all the necessary coursework, received your graduate degree, and passed the board exams, it’s now time to choose which field of dentistry you want to go into. You can become a general dentist, or choose to specialize in a dental concentration.
If you choose to specialize in the variety of fields that are available, you have a multitude of options in working in a practice, research field, or administration. Below is a detailed list of some of the most popular dental career paths.
- General Dentists
These dentists make up most the dentists around the world, and are the ones you go to for general oral health issues. The job of the general dentist generally includes:
- Doing check-ups on their patients’ oral health
- Diagnosing oral health issues
- Performing basic procedures like cavity fillings and root canals
If you’re not a dentist who is interested in focusing only on one specific aspect of dentistry, then the general dentist path is you. General dentists are always kept on their toes with a myriad of oral health problems to solve.
Orthodontists are the dentists who are associated with braces. Their specialty lies within correcting misaligned teeth and jaws. This is a very specialized field that requires a wealth of knowledge and expertise.
They can correct a variety of issues including:
- Under and over bites
- Realigning the jaw
- Correcting positions of the teeth that may affect things such as eating and speech.
Prosthodontists’ specialty involves creating prosthetics for patients who may missing teeth, or need help correcting oral issues. Prosthodontists do tasks including:
- Dental implants
This specialization requires that dentists go to an additional 3 or more years of training in a prosthodontic graduate school.
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
These are the dentists that usually are responsible for taking out your wisdom teeth. But oral and maxillofacial surgeons do more than extract wisdom teeth from their patients. They also specialize in:
- Regenerating deficient bones
- Treating ulcers
- Removing tumors in the mouth
- Fixing cleft palates
- Reconstructing patients face or jaw
Perhaps the most specialized of them all, endodontists focus on the living nerves and tissues found within the tooth itself. Endodontists are known for their root canal work, and are often referred to patients by their general dentists.
- These specialists don’t like to extract teeth, and focus on solutions to issues that involve leaving the tooth intact.
- This specialization also calls for an additional 2 or more years of endodontist training, and a passing score on the American Board of Endodontology examination.
- Pediatric Dentistry
While a lot of children patients tend to see general dentists for their oral health needs, many prefer going to a dentist who specializes in working with children. A pediatric dentist, much like a pediatric doctor, specialized in working with children and assisting them to maintain their developing oral health.
- These dentists ensure that children’s teeth are growing in correctly, evaluates their potential need for braces or other corrective surgeries, and may refer them to other specialists if need be.
- Pediatric dentists also need to have a friendly disposition and a talent for working with smaller patients to ease their fear and instill in them a lifelong love of going to the dentist.
There’s never been a better time to become a dentist. The market is booming, and jobs are abundant.
- The employment rate of dentists is projected to grow 18 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average career path.
- The average dentist earns 158,000 dollars a year, with that number increasing for various specialties.
Dentistry is not a fading field, as everybody has teeth that need to be cared for. While this field requires a lot of dedication and time to receive the education and accreditation needed, it can be both a lucrative and rewarding career path.
Non-traditional Career Options
There are several careers in the dental field that are considered non-traditional, because they are not associated with general or specialized dentistry. Some non-traditional career options are listed below.
- The Federal Government/Military
Every branch of the military employees, and often offer scholarships to pay for graduate students’ schooling. If serving the Armed Forces’ oral health needs and giving back to your country is something you’re interested, this may be a great option for you.
The US Public Health Services also offers careers in dentistry. These include positions in several the federal agencies under the Public Health Services such as:
- The Food and Drug Administration
- The Department of Health and Human Services
- The National Institutes for Health
- Public Health
On a state and county level, there are many options for careers in dentistry. Most public health programs offer jobs working in clinics that serve low-income families providing them much needed oral health care.
There are positions in dental graduate schools across the nation that are in need of dentists to teach students, and provide administrative support. A few of these positions include:
- Faculty member
- Clinical management.
You could also work for these universities in a research capacity, working towards discovering breakthroughs in technology and technique in the various fields of dentistry. The private sector and government agencies also offer dental research positions.
Most dentists work as solo practitioners and own their own business. This could either mean that they work alone with a team of supporting staff, or with other professional partners in the same practice. It’s not uncommon when starting out your dental career that you work under a more experienced dentist for a few years as an associate dentist.
Dentists usually work 5 days a week, and some work on weekends to meet the needs and schedules of their patients. Working 40 hours a week during normal business hours is usually the norm, but dentists in the beginning stages of opening their practice will often work upwards of 60 hours. It is also common for experienced dentists closer to retirement to work less hours.
- American Academy of Periodontology https://www.perio.org/
This is a professional organization for periodontists that specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases affecting the gums and teeth structures. Here you will find all the information you need on additional years of training, and what you need to do to become a periodontist.
- American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeonhttp://www.aaoms.org/
This is a great resource to discover information on graduate schools, career options and events for the aspiring oral and maxillofacial surgeons. They include downloadable media, resources for new OMSs and certification programs just to name a few.
- American Association of Orthodontists https://www.aaoinfo.org/
This association provides its members with information on everything from conferences, to advice on legal issues, and a comprehensive list of accredited orthodontic programs.
- American Association of Women Dentists https://www.aawd.org/
The AAWD is a great resource to find a community of women practicing dentistry. Here you can find information on networking opportunities, scholarships, and their annual conference.
- American Dental Association http://www.ada.org/en/
The American Dental Association is the go-to resource for dentistry that provides an updated newsletter on field related news, and interesting dentistry related events that are held across the country. They also have information on careers, education and great public programs.
- National Dental Association http://www.ndaonline.org/
The NDA, much like the ADA listed above, is a great resource to find a comprehensive newsletter, an education center, career advice, and skill building events.
This respectable university’s graduate program has online resources on a variety of career options in the dentistry field. They also have advice on starting your own dental practice, job opportunities, and seminars and workshops.
- American Student Dental Association http://www.asdanet.org/postdoc/career-paths.aspx
The ASDA is a great place to find resources on career options, how to pay for dental school, obtaining licensure, and advice on life after dental school. This is a great resource for prospective and current students to check out and gain information about dental school.
- American Dental Association http://www.ada.org/en/education-careers/careers-in-dentistry/alternative-dental-career-options
If you’re looking for resources on alternative career options, this is the website for you. The ADA has a comprehensive list of all the popular alternative career options, and advice for getting you there.
- American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry http://www.aapd.org/
Interested in working with children in dentistry? Head over to the AAPD’s website for a plethora of resources about children’s oral health, residency programs, and the latest pediatric dentistry news.
This skill is especially important when thinking about opening your own practice, and working with your employees, and patients. A successful dentist possesses the ability to oversee procedures, and take responsibility for mistakes.
A large part of a dentists’ work is diagnosing patients’ problems. This involves singling out the issue, and finding the best way to address it for both the patient and the dentist.
- Business Management
When opening your own dentistry practice or becoming a team member of an existing one, it’s important to know basic business management skills to keep the business afloat. Things such as accounting, bookkeeping, and marketing can make or break whether your place of employment succeeds.
- Friendly Personality
A lot of people are afraid of going to the dentist and having surgery. It’s a dentist’s job to console their patients, and ensure them that with anesthesia and improving technology, a trip to the dentist doesn’t have to involve pain and suffering. Being friendly towards your patients can also create a lasting relationship between you, and build a sense of trust.