Ever wondered what it takes to become a dentist? If you’re interested in becoming a dentist, knowing what kind of education you need to pursue this career path is an excellent first step. The answer is a bit more complex than deciding to “go to dental school.” So, let’s dive into what it takes to become a dentist.
First Things First: Undergraduate Education
Before applying to dental school, you must complete an undergraduate education. Most dental schools require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree, although some may accept students who have completed at least two years of undergraduate study. Your mileage may vary.
Somewhat counterintuitively, you can major in any subject you like as long as you complete the required prerequisite courses. Standard prerequisite courses include biology, chemistry, physics, and math. Some dental schools may also require additional courses, such as biochemistry or anatomy.
Put simply, choose any course of study that will get you through those prerequisite courses.
Dental Admissions Test or DAT
Once you’ve completed your undergraduate education, the next step is to take the Dental Admissions Test. The DAT is a standardized test that measures your academic abilities, scientific knowledge, perceptual ability, and manual dexterity.
Your DAT score is the single most crucial part of your dental school application. Many, if not all, schools put great emphasis on your scores on the DAT.
After completing your undergraduate education and getting good marks on the DAT, it’s time to apply to dental school. The dental school typically takes four years to complete, and during this time, you’ll take courses in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and other dentistry-related subjects.
You’ll also gain hands-on experience working with patients in a clinical setting. This experience is crucial as it helps you develop your skills to become a successful dentist.
Once you’ve completed dental school, you’ll need to obtain a license to practice dentistry in the state where you plan to work. Licensing requirements vary by state, but you’ll need to pass a written and practical exam.
Interesting aside: California, Florida, and New York are known for having more extensive, difficult-to-pass exams to get licensed to practice dentistry.
You may also need to complete continuing education courses to maintain your license and stay up-to-date with the latest advances in dentistry.
While a dental degree is enough to practice general dentistry, some dentists pursue post-graduate education to specialize in a particular area of dentistry. Specialty niches include orthodontics, periodontics, endodontics, and oral surgery, among others.
Post-graduate education typically takes two to four years, depending on the specialty. For example, you must complete a three-year residency program to become an orthodontist.
Even if you don’t choose to specialize in a particular area of dentistry, you will almost certainly be encouraged to continue your education throughout your career. Dentistry constantly evolves, and learning new techniques and technologies is crucial for career development.
It’s human nature to hit parts of your career where you tend to coast a little bit. Continuing education courses can help you stay up-to-date with the latest advances in dentistry and improve your skills and knowledge. Many states require dentists to complete several continuing education credits yearly to maintain their licenses.
So, becoming a dentist requires a significant investment of time and money. You’ll need to complete an undergraduate education, pass the Dental Admissions Test, attend dental school, obtain a license, and potentially pursue post-graduate education.
However, the rewards can be significant for those who are passionate about dentistry. Dentists play a critical role in helping people maintain their oral health, and the profession offers high job satisfaction.
If you’re considering a career in dentistry, check out the requirements and talk to dentists in your area to learn more about the profession. With dedication and hard work, a career in dentistry could be in your future.