How to Become a Dental Anesthesiologist

April 1, 2024


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 10/10/23

They say not all heroes wear masks, but dental anesthesiologists do. They are the unsung heroes that make crucial dental procedures bearable and accessible for patients. 

Did you know about 36% of Americans have a fear of dental treatment, with about 12% having an extreme fear, and 3% having dentophobia so extreme they avoid going to the dentist at all. 

But what causes this fear? It isn’t the fear of receiving horrible news about their teeth, but the fear of pain. A large portion of Americans dread going to the dentist and avoid having routine procedures because of the pain they think it’ll cause!

Fortunately, there are dental professionals that prevent this fear from becoming a reality; they’re called dental anesthesiologists. These professionals ensure patients are unconscious for any major procedures, or sedated for minor ones, so they feel no pain and can get the treatments they require.

To learn more about how to become a dental anesthesiologist, read on!

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Steps to Becoming a Dental Anesthesiologist

As we begin discussing how to join this profession, your first question might be “how long does it take to become a dental anesthesiologist?” 

Becoming a dental anesthesiologist typically takes at least 11 years, if each step is completed in succession. Here are the exact steps involved:

Step One: Obtain an Undergraduate Degree

You’ll be required to complete several post-secondary degrees to become a dental anesthesiologist, starting with a four-year undergraduate degree at an accredited university.

While the majority of aspiring dentists pursue science-related majors to fulfill their prerequisites before applying to dental school, you can essentially pursue any major you want! No matter the major, it’s essential you maintain high grades so that you’re perceived as an attractive candidate by dental schools. 

Step Two: Gain Useful Experience

You’ll be required to submit a resume as part of your dental school application. This resume must include any relevant extracurriculars, work, or volunteer activities you pursued throughout college. 

While you don’t want to overload your schedule and compromise your grades, you should have some experience in each of these categories.

Having experience working or volunteering in a clinical setting, preferably in dentistry, will benefit you the most; it’ll demonstrate your interest in the field and continued motivation despite its rigors. But you should also pursue passion projects that demonstrate your range of skills and talents.

Step Three: Write the DAT

Another crucial part of your dental school application will be your DAT score. This score is considered to be the best predictor of your potential to succeed in dental school and the field of dentistry in general. 

Accordingly, it’s important you do your research to figure out what scores you’ll need to land within the competitive range of previous successful applicants at your top schools. Typically, higher-ranking schools require higher scores.

Depending on your target score, you should create a comprehensive study schedule with reliable tools to ensure you meet it. Give yourself ample time to study, write the test, and rewrite it if necessary.

Step Four: Go to Dental School

Once you’ve accepted an offer at your top dental school, you’ll spend the next four years learning the fundamentals of basic dentistry and gaining practical experience to prepare you for your career. At the end of these four years, you will graduate with a DDS or DMD, depending on your program.

Just like your undergrad, it’s critical you maintain high grades in dental school to aid you in your next program. 

It’s also important you expand your network in dental school so you secure strong letters of recommendation and have connections to mentors that can help you land a career or get into a top residency program.

Step Five: Gain Board Licensure

By this step, you’ll have the education and experience to practice dentistry in theory. To ensure it goes beyond just theory, you’ll have to pass the Integrated National Board Dental Examination (INBDE). 

This is a licensure examination that determines whether dental school grads have the necessary level of clinical skills to safely practice entry-level dentistry. 

Step Six: Join a Dental Anesthesiology Residency Program

If you want to just be a regular dentist that performs routine check-ups and fills in cavities, you can stop at step five. However, if you want to become a dental anesthesiologist, who assists in larger procedures, you’ll have to gain specialized training to do so.

This involves completing a 36 months dental anesthesiology residency. There are currently only nine recognized dental anesthesiology programs that students can join, meaning there is fierce competition for these limited spots!

Dental Anesthesiologist Skills

To excel in the field as a dental anesthesiologist, it’s crucial you have the following skills:

  • Attention to detail: to monitor patients carefully to ensure they remain unconscious and are responding well to the anesthesia
  • Problem-solving: to quickly respond and resolve urgent situations as they arise
  • Decision-making: to confidently and accurately determine how much anesthesia patients need based on given information
  • Interpersonal skills: to put patients at ease as they are put under anesthesia
  • Mathematical skills: to correctly calculate anesthesia dosages

While it may seem relatively low-pressure to be an anesthesiologist who cares for unconscious patients, about 1 in 1000 patients have some form of anesthesia awareness during surgery, often because of anesthesiologist error! 

To avoid these traumatic events from happening, anesthesiologists must give patients the perfect amount of anesthesia to sleep throughout their procedure and only wake up after it’s complete.

Dental Anesthesiologist Salary

After going over how to become a dental anesthesiologist, and the various expensive degrees you’ll have to complete, you may be curious about the salary you can expect to make to compensate for these costs.

Fortunately, these highly-trained professionals are well-paid, with a median annual salary of $302,970. Dental anesthesiologists are also in high-demand as dental disease is prevalent among every age group.

FAQs: How to Become a Dental Anesthesiologist

The answers to any remaining questions about how to become a dental anesthesiologist can be found below.

1. How Long Does It Take to Become a Dental Anesthesiologist?

It will take at least 11 years to become a dental anesthesiologist: four years for your undergrad, four years for dental school, and three for your residency program. While this may seem intimidating and expensive, your dental anesthesiologist salary will make up for the money you invest in your education!

2. Do Dental Anesthesiologists Go to Medical School?

Some dental anesthesiologists go to medical and dental school, but dental school is the only requirement to join this field.

3. Is Dental Anesthesiology a Specialty?

Yes, dental anesthesiology is a specialty that requires advanced training beyond just a DDS or DMD.

4. Where Do Dental Anesthesiologists Work?

Dental anesthesiologists typically work in dental clinics, plastic surgery clinics, hospitals, or other medical organizations.

5. Is Becoming a Dental Anesthesiologist Hard?

Yes, if you choose to pursue this career path, know it will be competitive and challenging. Not only will you have to get into dental schools with low acceptance rates, but you’ll also have to thrive in them! Additionally, you’ll have to secure a spot in a dental anesthesiology residency where seats are extremely limited.

Students must dedicate their full efforts and dedication to each step of the process to ensure they make it to the last!

Final Thoughts

Considering the large percentage of Americans that have dental anxiety, the professionals whose sole responsibility is to prevent patient pain and stress are essential to maintain the nation’s oral health. While joining this profession will require the completion of several lengthy degrees, the hard work will be well worth the rewards!

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