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. While many dental school graduates opt to enter general practice immediately upon graduation, in other cases, they may opt for one or two years of additional education in a general practice residency or advanced education in general dentistry program.
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. Fulltime dentists spend approximately 36 hours per week in their practices, of which 33 hours/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.”
Dedicated to recruiting students from underrepresented minorities, so graduates can reach out to all communities
New Jersey Dental School—one of the eight schools of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey—was founded in 1956 and has a proud tradition of educational excellence. Since its inception, the school has been dedicated to recruiting students from underrepresented minorities, so graduates can reach out to all communities.
The Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry, Temple University, is the second oldest dental school in continuous existence, chartered 134 years ago in 1863.
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. In order to be accepted into dental school, you have to take the American Dental Association's Dental Admissions Test.
The length of educational training beyond high school is generally eight years, including four years in college and four years of dental school. 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:
You do not have to be a science major in college to be admitted into dental school, but you do need to take certain biology, chemistry and physics courses while in college. 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 Financing Dental Education section can help you find additional ways to pay for your education.
More information about the dental school application process is available at the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) website and GoDental.org. You can also purchase a copy of the ADEA Office Guide to Dental Schools.
Watch for announcements about ADEA-sponsored recruitment events. Each March, ADEA hosts a live recruitment fair in a different city around the country. ADEA also offers an annual virtual recruitment fair, which is a great opportunity to visit online booths for most of the U.S. dental schools, and engage with dental school faculty, administrators and students in live chats.
You also can connect with other dental students via:
The timeline listed below offers a general guide for undergraduates planning to attend dental school. It is not a rigid timetable. Variations may occur, based on the curriculum of the college or university you are attending, as well as your background and career interests. Use it as a guide to planning your undergraduate education.
While many pre-dental students are science majors (e.g., biology, pre-dental, chemistry, etc.), a science major is not required for admission to dental school. Dental school pre-requisite courses vary by dental school, but generally include, at minimum, one year of study in each of the following areas: biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry and physics. Check the admission requirements of the schools that you are considering for additional required courses. Many admissions committees are favorably impressed by applicants with varied academic backgrounds including majors such as business, social sciences and the humanities.
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Last updated: February 10, 2016
©2012 American Dental Education Association