Dentists are medical professionals who diagnose and treat conditions related to the teeth, gums and other parts of the mouth. They also provide preventative care and hygiene education to help patients keep their mouths in top shape. If you are interested in becoming a dentist, you can expect to make a 10 year commitment to education and must meet strict licensure and certification requirements in order to practice dental medicine.
Aspiring dentists need to earn a bachelor's degree before they can gain entrance to dental school. There is no specific area of study required, but you may consider taking courses in biology, physics and chemistry to prepare you for the Dental Admission Test, or DAT. The DAT is a required examination that tests your preparedness for dental school, and most schools have score requirements for admission. You will take this exam during your junior year of undergraduate studies. To better prepare yourself for dental school, you may also consider attending a dental school prep program. Professional organizations sometimes offer summer programs that can help you in your career endeavors by offering professional development courses and advanced dental education opportunities.
Dentists are required to earn a Doctor of Dental Medicine of Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from a school that is approved by the American Dental Association (ADA). You will spend a total of four years in dental school; the first two will be devoted to classroom and laboratory instruction and the final two will be spent completing clinical rotations with patients. You will learn about a variety of topics related to dentistry, including dental hygiene, dental anesthesia, oral pathology, oral radiology and more.
The ADA recognizes nine specialties within dentistry, and each requires a further year or two of residency training after earning a dental degree. Specializations include pediatric dentistry, periodontics, orthodontics, oral surgery and oral pathology. During your residency, you will focus on topics related to your specialty and will work directly with patients under the supervision of a licensed dentist.
Licensure and Certification
No matter which state you live in, you will be required to obtain licensure in order to practice dental medicine. Requirements vary slightly by state, but all states require dentists to take and pass a written exam and a practical exam. Licensure needs to be renewed on a regular basis, though how often varies by state. While not required, you may decide to purse board certification in your specialty to further your career. Board certification involves taking additional exams and fulfilling requirements specific to your specialization. Board certification is conducted through the professional board associated with each specialty.
As a dentist, you must continue your education throughout your career in order to renew your license and certification. The ADA offers online courses and seminars that will satisfy these requirements, or you may pursue opportunities through another approved professional organization.