Are you considering a career in dentistry? The educational path to becoming a dentist can be long and complex, but we’ve got you covered. Here is your complete guide on how to become a dentist.
Dentistry can be a fulfilling career for those passionate about oral health and hygiene. But how long does it take to be a dentist? And what steps do you have to take to get there? If you’re wondering how you can become a dentist, read on to learn more!
So, what can you expect from a career in dentistry? A day in the life as a dentist typically consists of an early start, reviewing patient files, and seeing 3-4 patients a day before heading home.
Here are a few regular tasks that you can expect to complete as a dentist:
Many dentists have reported fairly long work hours in the first few years, which can be draining at first. Hours typically become more flexible as you get to know your clients and gain more experience. Dentists generally report high levels of job satisfaction, especially after the first few years of adjusting and building a client base.
Here is our step-by-step guide on how to become a dentist.
Most US and Canadian dental schools require applicants to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree. Although certain schools will admit a few students during the final years of their undergrad, it is uncommon. During your undergraduate degree, you can prepare for dental school by completing the necessary prerequisite courses, and gaining volunteer and work experience to add to your dental CV.
The Dental Admissions Test is a computer-based multiple choice exam to assess necessary skills before applying for dental school. The test is 4.5 hours in length and includes material on the natural sciences, perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning.
Most students take the DAT after they’ve taken all of their undergraduate prerequisite courses. This timeline still gives students many months before applying to dental school in case they need to retake the test.
The DAT score ranges from 1-30, and a competitive score is 20 or higher. The test is administered year-round to give students ample opportunities to choose a date that best suits their schedule.
Once you’ve completed a bachelor’s degree and been accepted into a dental school, you can begin focusing on your passion. During your four years of dental school, you’ll take medical courses such as biology and anatomy, as well as specific dental courses like preventive dentistry and dental anatomy.
Throughout dental school you will also spend time in labs gaining hands-on experience, shadowing, and performing basic procedures. After you have successfully earned a dentistry degree at a CODA accredited institution, you can move on to acquiring licensure.
Once you’ve earned your D.M.D or D.D.S degree, you can acquire your dental license by completing a written exam. Formerly, US dental licensure required successful completion of Part I and Part II NBDE exams, which have now been discontinued.
To replace the NBDE, dental graduates must now take an Integrated National Board Dental Examination (INBDE). For more information on the updated examination, a detailed presentation can be found on the ADA’s website.
Most U.S. licensing jurisdictions also require candidates to complete a clinical examination requirement. Clinical exams are typically administered by regional testing agencies.
In clinical exams, candidates are faced with one or two dental-related problem solving tasks. For more information on clinical exams, check out the ADA’s information on the Dental Licensure Objective Structured Clinical Examination (DLOSCE).
If you want to specialize, you can attend a residency program after your dental degree. Dental specialty residency programs can take two to six years to complete, depending on the complexity of the material. Currently, there are twelve dental specialties recognized by the ADA:
Although taking a dental specialty program adds years to your education, it can be worth it for passionate learners who want to focus on one area of dentistry. Specialists are also often compensated more than dentists who choose not to specialize and may have more job opportunities in the future.
Let’s break down how much it costs to become a dentist.
The average cost of dental school tuition in the US ranges from $53,000 to $70,000 for private and out-of-state schools. However, these numbers can vary greatly depending on a number of factors.
In-state schools will always cost less, and most dental schools increase tuition each year of your degree. For example, public schools can cost closer to $40,000 per year in-state, but may cost closer to $60,000 by the fourth year of your program.
Application fees should also be factored into your dental school budget. The more schools you apply to, the more costly your application fees will be. The ADEA AADSAS has an initial application fee of $264 for your first school and charges $115 for each additional application.
Another important addition to your dental school budget is the cost of living and transportation. First year students often choose to live in residence on campus, which can be a great way to meet fellow students but may be costly. Living in residence can help you save on transportation fees.
Depending on your area, finding a rental space near your school may be less expensive than living in residence. To make the comparison, search for the average cost of living in your state and compare them to the cost of residence at your target schools.
Depending on where you choose to attend school, you may have to account for some added expenses. Flights home, for example, can become a bit of a financial burden for international or out-of-state students. Your budget should also account for materials such as:
According to US News, the median salary of dentists was $160,370 in 2021. The average income for a dentist depends on a number of factors, including education, specialty, experience, and geography. Dentists typically work full-time hours, with longer hours in the first year or two of their careers.
The highest earning dental specialties are Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, with an average annual salary of $311,460. As for the future of dentist salaries, “the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 8% employment growth for dentists between 2020 and 2030. In that period, an estimated 9,800 jobs should open up.”
Now that we’ve covered the essential steps to becoming a dentist, let’s talk about what it’s like once you’re practicing. Here are some considerations for future dentists.
Dental professionals report varying levels of job satisfaction. Seasoned dental professionals often report high job satisfaction, while new dentists report having a harder time.
One contributing factor to low levels of job satisfaction can be due to a lack of respect in the medical world. Although dentists take similar education programs and are highly trained professionals, they are often not treated as such. On top of this, many people do not like going to the dentist, which can be difficult for dentists to deal with throughout the week.
Dentists report higher job satisfaction the longer they’ve been practicing. Over the years, patient relationships become well established, hours become more regular, and salary increases. The more comfortable dentists become in their positions, the more satisfied they generally are with their choice in career.
As mentioned above, you should expect long work hours in the first few years. Seven to twelve hour work days are normal, with most dentists racking up 36 hours or more a week.
As you establish your client base and gain more experience, your hours will become more normal and even flexible. Dentists report a generally stable pace around the five-year mark.
One of the most important parts of being a successful dentist is your chair-side manner. As a dentist, you will be spending a lot of time getting to know your patients. Many people do not feel comfortable going to the dentist, so a big part of your job is to ease your patient’s anxiety by adopting an approachable yet professional manner.
Your chair-side manner can also determine how many long-term patients you’ll have. Patients may decide to keep coming back to see you simply because they enjoy the way you talk to them, or the little gifts you let them take home.
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions on how to become a dentist.
It takes eight years to become a dentist; four years in a bachelor’s degree, and four years in dental school. If you choose to specialize you’ll need to attend a residency program, which can add two to six years to your education.
Sometimes it can be challenging to decide whether or not to go to dental school. To ease your decision, try attending a pre-dental program, shadowing, or volunteering in a dental setting. Being a dentist can be a great career choice if you are passionate about healthcare and enjoy interacting with patients.
The median annual salary of dentists in the US is $160,370. Salary varies depending on your education, specialty, experience, location, and individual employer.
Most dental schools require applicants to have completed a four year bachelor’s degree. However, some schools allow select students to begin dental school in the final years of their bachelor’s degree.
The twelve ADA recognized dental specialties are: Dental Anesthesiology, Dental Public Health, Endodontics, Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Oral Medicine, Orofacial Pain, Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, Pediatric Dentistry, Periodontics, and Prosthodontics.
The general prerequisite courses for dental school are one year (with lab) of biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics. Sometimes more science, anatomy, and English courses are also required.
Yes, dental schools do often have supplemental essays. Many dental schools request applicants to write brief secondary essays to help them get to know their applicants better before inviting them for interviews.
Becoming a dentist is an excellent career choice for individuals who are passionate about healthcare and enjoy interacting with patients on a daily basis. If you’re thinking of becoming a dentist, you should be prepared to attend at least eight years of school or more if you choose to specialize.
If you’re having trouble deciding if dentistry is right for you, try attending a pre-dental program or shadowing a dentist to get a better idea of what to expect as a future dentist.