How to Become a Dentist: Education, Degree & Licensure Requirements

Jun 28, 2019

Students wondering 'what do you have to study to become a dentist?' and other important questions concerning the field can explore dentistry here. Dentists undergo extensive training and have the opportunity to specialize.

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How to Get a Dental Degree

Becoming a dentist requires a lot of education at various levels, training experience, and professional licensure. Students wondering things like 'what do I need to be a dentist?', 'how long is dental school?', or 'is an internship required to become a dentist?' can get their questions answered in the steps outlined below.

Step 1: What Subjects are Needed to Become a Dentist?

Students interested in becoming a dentist can begin preparing as early as high school by starting to take some of the subjects and classes needed to be a dentist. These courses are usually in areas like math, biology, and chemistry.

Step 2: What Degrees Do You Need to Be a Dentist?

Dentists must first earn their bachelor's degree, usually in a science-related field, such as biology. They typically need to have prior coursework in areas like chemistry and biology to prepare for the Dental Admission Test (DAT) for dental school.

Students must then pursue their Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry/Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree. These programs must be accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). There are several different universities in various states that offer accredited dentistry programs.

Step 3: Dentistry Schooling Requirements

As mentioned, students typically need to take the DAT exam and may need to undergo an interview process to get into dentistry school. Once there, students must complete a variety of dentistry requirements that can usually be completed in 4 years.

While in the program, students complete traditional coursework and clinical experiences to gain the necessary hands-on training for the field. Often, the clinical experience includes rotations to give students exposure to various kinds of specialties and is supervised by a licensed dentist. Other coursework requirements may include subjects in:

  • Anatomy
  • Periodontics
  • Local anesthesia
  • Radiology

Step 4: Training

Students wishing to be a general dentist do not typically have to complete any additional training outside of dental school. However, those wishing to pursue careers in research or teaching may go on to complete a postdoctoral program in general dentistry.

Other students wishing to specialize in a particular area of dentistry are required to complete a CODA-accredited residency program related to the specialty. These residencies may take 2 to 4 years to complete and generally result in a master's degree or postdoctoral certificate. Students specializing in oral and maxillofacial surgery may earn a joint Medical Degree (MD) over their 4 to 6 year training period.

Step 5: Dentistry License

All dentists must obtain a valid state license to practice, but license requirements vary by individual state. In general, dentists are required to have a DDS or DMD, pass the National Board Dental Examinations, and pass any required clinical exam at the state or regional levels. Dentists in any specialty area must also hold a license in that specialty that may require an additional state exam.

Dentist Job Description

Degree Required Doctoral or professional degree
Degree Field Dental medicine
Other Requirements Training, license
Annual Mean Salary (2018)* $175,840 (dentists, general)
Estimated Job Growth (2016-2026)* 19% (dentists, general)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Dentists teach their patients how to properly care for their teeth and gums and will also diagnose and treat any issues of the mouth. They use a range of different pieces of equipment to help fix or remove broken teeth, fill cavities, seal teeth, and prepare models for dental appliances. Dentists are also able to prescribe medication for the mouth as needed and use anesthetics during procedures. Some dentists choose to specialize in a particular area and may take on a job title like:

  • Orthodontist
  • Pediatric dentist
  • Endodontist
  • Oral pathologist
  • Periodontist
  • Dental anesthesiologist

Students who are interested in dentistry, but may not want to become a dentist can consider becoming a registered dental hygienist who assists dentists and works with a lot of the same equipment. There are also several different orthodontist assistant schools and dental lab technician schools available for other dentistry-related careers.

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