Dentistry is the branch of the healing arts and sciences devoted to maintaining oral health. It is a dynamic health profession, offering opportunities to become a successful, highly respected member of the community.
Dentists enjoy excellent compensation and the high demand for dental care is likely to continue in the future. The realization that oral health can have a serious impact on systemic health drives the expansion of new professional opportunities each year.
A degree in dentistry offers a number of career options, including:
Approximately 80% of all dentists practice general dentistry. General dentists treat all patients, adults and children, in many different treatment facilities and settings. General dentists are graduates of dental school and hold a D.D.S. or D.M.D. degree. The D.M.D. and the D.D.S. are equivalent degrees that are awarded to dental students upon completion of the same types of programs.
Some dental school graduates opt for one or two years of additional education in a general practice residency or advanced education in general dentistry program, rather than immediately going into practice.
Evaluate the overall health of their patients including taking and evaluating comprehensive medical histories.
Provide instruction and advice on oral health care and preventive measures to maintain healthy oral tissues and prevent oral disease.
There are a number of dental specialties:
Approximately 90% of all dentists are engaged in delivery of care through private practices. Full-time dentists spend approximately 36 hours per week in their practices, of which approximately 33 hours per week is spent treating patients. They have great flexibility in determining the number of hours per week they choose to work.
The remaining 10% of dentists teach in dental education programs, conduct research and/or deliver care in the Armed Forces, the Indian Health Service, the U.S. Public Health Service or other clinical settings. Dentists engaged in teaching, research or related positions generally work regular 40-hour workweeks.
About a Career as a Dentist
About Health Care Careers
Note: The American Dental Education Association reviewed this profile.
Graduate student, prosthodontics, New Jersey Dental School
“I want to work especially with oncology patients. It’s rewarding to restore people’s oral functions and help them feel good about themselves again.”
Dentist, Public Health Dental Clinic, Savannah, Georgia
"Providing oral health care to people who would not otherwise receive it is the most rewarding aspect of my career. I am grateful that I chose a career where I can really make a difference."
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To practice dentistry in the United States, you must graduate from an accredited dental school. Dental school programs generally last four years. In order to be accepted into dental school, you have to take the American Dental Association's Dental Admission Test (DAT).
In making admissions decisions, dental schools consider many factors, which may vary from one school to another. For example, many state-supported dental schools are required to accept a majority of students who reside in their home state. Some dental schools consider individuals without a bachelor's degree, if they have completed a minimum of two years of full-time college study. However, preference is given to candidates who have a college degree by the time they enter dental school.
General criteria used in making admissions decisions include:
Schools also look at a candidate's personal qualities, which can be reflected in the application and through letters of recommendation. For example, they may consider:
While you do not have to major in science as an undergraduate to be admitted to dental school, you do need to take certain biology, chemistry and physics courses. Work with a health professions advisor while in college to develop a well-rounded course of study that best meets your needs. Pre-dental students also are encouraged to join pre-dental clubs, talk with practicing dentists and, if possible, shadow dentists.
An increasing number of dental schools offer dual degree programs.
In many states, after graduating from dental school and passing your licensing examination, you can begin practicing dentistry immediately. No internship or residency is required. In several states, a one year post-doctoral residency is required in lieu of a licensing examination. Dental school graduates can opt for additional training, either in general practice dentistry or in one of the nine recognized advanced dental education specialties:
The cost of a dental education is high, but the income you can earn as a dentist is also significant. Most dental graduates successfully manage loan repayment through a variety of options offered by the federal government, and in some cases, qualify for loan repayment programs that reduce the amount of student loan debt in return for service to designated populations, engaging in research or pursuing academic dentistry. ExploreHealthCareer.org's Funding Opportunities tool and GoDental.org's Money Matters section can help you find additional ways to pay for your education.
In order to perform dental procedures, a dentist must be able to work with precision on an extremely small scale. Additionally, superior eye-hand coordination is critical to ensuring the safety of patients and the integrity of the profession. That’s why it’s important to develop your manual dexterity if you are interested in a career as a dentist.
In fact, the DAT specifically tests this skill, and most dental school admissions staff will ask you to discuss how you’ve developed your manual dexterity skills in interviews.
These are some things you can do to fine-tune your motor skills:
The sooner you start becoming more skillful with your hands, the more advanced you will be when this part of your dental school education begins.
These resources can help you get ready to apply to dental school:
You also can connect with other dental students via:
The American Dental Education Association created this timeline to guide pre-dental students through their four years of undergraduate education. You can see the timeline and find other resources on ADEA's GoDental website.
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Last updated: October 17, 2016
©2012 American Dental Education Association