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How to Become a Dentist

Majors Overview January 24, 2013

Dentists perform diagnosis and treatment of conditions that affect the teeth, mouth and gums. Apart from effecting tooth replacements, root canals and extractions, these professionals also provide advice on oral hygiene and preventative care. Licensed dentists need four years of undergraduate college education followed by four years in dental school as a bare minimum. In this article, we will look at the education and training requirements of dentists.

Requirements to Become a Dentist

The most common educational requirement is a post-baccalaureate first professional degree in dental medicine or dental surgery. A state-issued license is mandatory in all states of the United States. These professionals need strong leadership and communication skills apart from knowledge of medical and dental anatomy procedures. They also have to bring patience, and problem-solving skills to bear on the work that they perform. Additionally, they need manual dexterity, and as they spend most of their time on their feet; dentists need to have physical stamina (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)).

The following is a step-by-step guide that students can follow, if they plan to pursue this career field.

Stage One: Bachelor Degree Program Enrollment

Students who enroll into dental school are generally required to maintain bachelor degrees. Students with two to three years of undergraduate study may be admitted by some schools that can allow prospective dentists to complete bachelor degrees as a component part of the dental course. While no pre-dental concentration area is specified, students can prepare for dentistry school by doing courses in chemistry, physics and biology. Joining a mentoring program will benefit prospective dentists; they could also seek membership to the American Student Dental Association (ASDA), which support and guides aspiring dentists during the dental school admission process. Students enrolled in their first two years of dental college would also benefit from a dental school preparatory program such as the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsors. This is a dental school preparation program that last six weeks is conducted at university campuses and colleges across the United States (source: www.smdep.org). It offers students hands on work experience in a clinical setting, apart from academic enrichment courses and career development and financial advice.

Stage Two: Taking the Dental Admission Test

Before seeking admission to dental school, students may have their scientific knowledge and academic capacity assessed through the Dental Admission Test (DAT). Admission to dental school requires a minimum score on this exam. Letters of recommendation, interviews, grade point averages and DAT scores are all part of the admission criteria.

Stage Three: Earning a Dental Degree

A Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree results from four years spent by a student in dental school. Some programs offer accreditation from the American Dental Association (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation (www.ada.org); licensure norms in some states require a degree from such accredited program.Dental school coursework during the first two years is a combination of classroom and laboratory work in dental and health science. Such coursework includes topics such as pharmacology, radiology, orthodontics, dental anesthesia, periodontics and oral pathology. Clinical practice is emphasized in the last two years of dental school during which students learn diagnosis and treatment of patients, supervised by dental instructors.

Stage Four: Obtaining Licensure

State licensure is mandatory for all dentists that seek to practice. While the requirement norms could differ from state to state, all candidates need to pass the National Board Dental Exam. Clinical procedures, ethics and dental sciences are covered with this two-part written exam. In addition, they are also required to pass a practical examination conducted by the licensing board of the state. Some states may require applicants to hold CPR or first aid certification, and submit to an interview or a background check.

Stage Five: Specializing

Ordinarily, dentists can be referred to as general dentistry practitioners; there are some that choose to concentrate on an area of specialization. Licensed dentists who want to work in various specialized areas of the field can select post-DDS or post-DMD education choices. The ADA’s Council on Dental Education and Licensure recognizes nine specialties among which are pediatric dentistry, dental public health, Oral and maxillofacial pathology, and orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics. In order to become a specialist, a prospective candidate must complete two to four years of education; in some instances up to two years of residency before they can earn a specialty state license. ADA offers online continuing education that does not culminate in any kind of certification, and prove immensely useful as it covers aspects such as managing a dental practice. These include teaching new techniques and procedures such as crownless bridge work and abrasion dentistry as well as appointment control. Standalone continuing education programs can also prove useful to dentists by helping them stay abreast of industry trends and expanding their professional dentistry practices.

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