Dental students learn to perform routine examinations of patients' teeth and mouths, along with various procedures, such as interpreting x-rays and filling cavities. To get into a dental school you will likely need a bachelor's degree, though some colleges offer combined B.S./D.M.D. or B.S./D.D.S. programs that allow students to earn their undergraduate and general dentistry degrees in seven years instead of eight. Another prerequisite is sufficient scores from the American Dental Association's Dental Admission Tests.
Dental college degrees generally take approximately four years to complete and offer students the opportunity to specialize in a number of different areas, including orthodontics, oral and maxilofacial surgery, and endodontics.
Doctor of Dental Surgery and Doctor of Dental Medicine Degrees
In addition to learning to perform routine dental examinations, aspiring dentists are trained to straighten teeth using fixed and removable devices, perform basic surgery on gums and underlying bones, and make models of the mouth for dentures and bridges. Students in a D.D.S. or D.M.D. program take classes and participate in clinical practice. Courses are likely to be in biomedical, clinical and behavioral sciences. Specific courses may be:
- Oral examination fundamentals
- Operative dentistry
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
A 18% increase in job opportunities for general dentists was predicted for the decade between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In May 2015, the average annual salary for dentists in the U.S. was $172,350, with dentists in Delaware, New Hampshire, Alaska and North Dakota receiving the highest pay (www.bls.gov).
Continuing Education Information
In addition to the dental degree, prospective dentists generally must pass written and practical exams to earn state licensure. Each state requires continuing education courses to maintain licensure. These courses enable dentists to stay current with technology and legal issues in the field. Typically 12 to 30 contact hours are required annually. Dentists also can pursue postgraduate education in specialties such as pediatric dentistry or periodontics. Dentists wishing to conduct research or teach at a dental college might consider enrolling in a Ph.D. program in areas such as oral epidemiology or dental science (dental research).
It takes seven or eight years to gain the requisite education to become a dentist, depending on whether you attain your undergraduate degree before applying to dental school or choose to complete a combined program. After the dental degree students must earn state licensure and remain up-to-date with developments in the field.