Dentist Education Requirements and Career Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a dentist. Get a quick view of the requirements and details about degree programs, job duties, and licensing to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

A dentist provides oral health services to adults and children. Some dentists choose to study a subspecialty, such as orthodontics. Most dentists obtain an undergraduate degree before completing a four-year dental program and earning a doctoral degree in dental medicine or dental surgery. While no specific undergraduate degree is required, students commonly take science courses in biology, anatomy, chemistry, and microbiology. Postgraduate requirements, such as a residency, may also be required. All dentists must be licensed by the state in which they practice.

Required Education Bachelor's degree prior to admission to dental school; doctoral degree in dental medicine or dental surgery; some dental specializations require completion of a residency
Licensing Required for dentists in all states
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 18%*
Median Salary (2015) $152,700*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Dental School

You should enroll in a dental school accredited by the American Dental Association. Dental colleges offer either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). You must submit Dental Admission Test (DAT) scores with your application.

DDS degree programs cover four years of in-class, pre-clinical, and clinical instruction. The first two years are devoted to lab and class instruction. Courses may include oral pathology, dental diagnosis, and dental treatment techniques. In the last two years, students typically complete a dental rotation externship, which is usually conducted in the dental clinics and allow students to treat patients under supervision.

In addition to general dentistry, dental schools typically offer specialized areas of study, such as oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics, or pediatric dentistry. These postgraduate programs generally take an additional 2-6 years to complete, depending on the chosen specialty, and may include a residency.

Career Information

Dentists work with patients to promote dental health. They diagnose and treat oral health issues and inform patients on preventative care and treatment. Most dentists are general practitioners who perform exams, fill cavities, and extract teeth; however, some choose a subspecialty of dentistry, such as orthodontics. Dental school graduates may work for established offices or set up their own practice.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted an 18% increase in the employment of dentists between the years of 2014 and 2024. This increase was attributed to a rise in the demand for dental services for the aging population. The BLS noted that dentists earn a median annual salary of $152,700 as of May 2015.

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