In order to become a practicing dentist, you must complete a program that leads to one of three professional degrees. Here, you can learn about the steps you must take to earn a dental degree, as well as certification and licensure requirements to practice dentistry.
Though a bachelor's degree is not required to become a dentist, several college level prerequisite courses are required to get into dental school. Satisfactory completion of the Dental Admission Test is also required. Following graduation from an accredited dental school, all dentists must obtain state licensing in order to work in the United States.
|Education Requirements||Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM), Doctor of Medical Dentistry (DMD) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)|
|Other Requirements||State licensure; specialty certification available|
|Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)*||3% (for all dentists)|
|Median Annual Salary (May 2019)*||$155,600 (for general dentists)|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Education Requirements for Dentists
All dentists are required to be licensed in the United States. Although exact requirements vary, states generally require graduation from an accredited dental school and successful completion of the state's written and clinical exams. Some previous college courses are needed before entering into dental school.
Individuals do not need to have a bachelor's degree to qualify for dental school, although according to the American Dental Association (ADA), a large majority of dental students have earned a bachelor's. Additionally, many students obtaining a dentistry education have a degree in a completely unrelated field.
Dental schools do have college-level prerequisites, however. Students are expected to take courses in subjects such as organic and inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, biology, microbiology, physics and English. Some colleges offer pre-dental programs designed to provide the necessary foundational classes for entry into dental school. The minimum required semesters and GPA for admission vary by school.
Before applying to dental school, students must also take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). The DAT is 280 multiple-choice questions spread across four sections: natural sciences, reading comprehension, perceptual ability and quantitative reasoning. Study guides and applications can be found at the ADA's website.
The next step in obtaining a dentistry education is to apply to dental school. The ADA's website has a list of all accredited dental schools in the U.S. The application process differs from school to school. Commonly, schools require an application and fee to be submitted along with transcripts and letters of recommendation. After these have been approved, schools will set up interviews with student candidates.
Dental school consists of classroom, clinical and laboratory courses. Courses include microbiology, physiology, anatomy, infectious disease, immunology and pharmacology. Students also learn about dental ethics, patient care, general dentistry, operative dentistry, dental procedures, clinical diagnosis and the operation of dental equipment. Programs of study typically take four years to complete and result in a Doctor of Dental Surgery, Doctor of Medical Dentistry or Doctor of Dental Medicine degree.
Each state requires dentists to be licensed, but licensing requirements can vary by state. According to the ADA, nearly all states require a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), Doctor of Medical Dentistry (DMD) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree from an ADA Commission on Dental Accreditation accredited university for licensure. Candidates must then pass a written test covering biomedical science, patient management, ethics and dental anatomy. Most states also require clinical exams in which applicants perform dental procedures on live and model patients.
Although it's not a formal requirement, completing a bachelor's degree before applying to dental school is recommended. In order to gain admission to a dental school, you must successfully complete the Dental Admission Test. After graduation, you must pass your state's licensure examination.