Dentist Schooling: What Does Dentist Schooling Entail?

Dentists require a significant amount of formal education. Learn about the schooling, job duties and licensing requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Whether a dentist is planning to practice general dentistry or follow one of the many specialty fields, they need either the title D.D.S or D.M.D at the end of their name. These doctoral degrees should be earned from a university with an accredited dental program.

Essential Information

Dentistry focuses on the care of teeth, gums and other parts of the mouth. Dental schools award a Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.), and they may offer additional schooling if a graduate wants to practice a dental specialty. All dentists must be licensed to practice.

Required Education D.D.S. or D.M.D.
Licensure Required in all states
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 18%
Median Annual Salary (May 2015)* $152,700

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

Admission Requirements for Dental School

Before entering dental school, college students need to take a number of prerequisites, including courses in biology, physics and organic chemistry. Most schools suggest that applicants earn a bachelor's degree, although usually only two years of college education is required for admission. Students also need to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT), which covers topics like perceptive ability, reading comprehension, knowledge of natural sciences and quantitative reasoning. During the admissions process, dental schools typically weigh the combination of an applicant's grade point average, DAT score and interview results in making their final determination.

Dental School Information

Dental school students usually begin their first year by taking science classes, like anatomy, microbiology and pathology. They then advance to dentistry-focused courses, such as dental biomaterials, cariology, periodontics and endodontics. Students do much of their learning in the classroom, but they also spend time in laboratories and gain hands-on experience through clinical practicums. Most dental students graduate from a D.D.S. or D.M.D. program in about four years.

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Licensing Requirements for Dentists

All dentists must become licensed to practice by their state. In most states, licensing requirements dictate that applicants hold a D.D.S. or D.M.D. from a school accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA). Licensing usually also requires passing written and clinical tests. All states use Parts I and II of the National Board Dental Examinations as their written tests; however, clinical tests vary by state.

If graduates want to pursue one of the nine ADA-recognized dental specializations, they must receive licensing in those areas as well. Additional schooling of 2 - 4 years is usually required, and up to two years of a residency in the specialty area may also be necessary for licensure. Dental specialties include oral and maxillofacial surgery, endodontics, periodontology and prosthodontics.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In 2015, dentists in general earned an annual median salary of $152,700, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Employment for these professionals was projected to increase faster than average, by 18%, from 2014-2024.

Before being able to study dentistry, students must first take courses to prepare them for the field, such as biology and organic chemistry, and must prepare themselves for the Dental Admission Test in order to apply to a dental school. Dental schools guide students to the completion of a doctorate in dental medicine or doctorate of dental surgery, either of which are usually needed to acquire a licenses to practice.

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