How Long Does IT Take to Be a Dentist?

Essential Information
The education requirements for becoming a dentist are completing a bachelor’s degree, passing the Dental Admissions Test (DAT), and completing four years of study to earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Medicine. You must obtain licensure from your state board of dentistry to practice in the profession. These degrees are generally not available online and include extensive hands-on experience.
The projected job growth of dentists between 2018 to 2028 is 7%, which is faster than average. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for dentists as of 2019 is $159,200 per year.
Bachelor’s Degree
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most students who enter dental schools complete four-year bachelor’s degree programs beforehand. On the other hand, some applicants complete two to three years of college prior to applying to dental school and complete their bachelor’s degree there. Undergraduate students may benefit from taking science courses, such as biology and health, which are often required for admission into dental school. Some colleges and universities offer pre-dental programs, which do not lead to the awarding of a degree but help students plan their bachelor’s degree curricula to meet admission requirements to dental school.
Dental Degree
Admission into dental school is highly competitive. Along with undergraduate performance, students are evaluated for their Dental Admissions Test (DAT) scores. Students have the opportunity to take this test before graduating college. After gaining admission into dental school, students can go on to complete four years of full-time study to earn the Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Medicine. Students typically spend the first two years learning general and dental science in classroom and laboratory settings. They may take courses like oral anatomy, histology, and pathology. In the final years, dental students participate in clinical practicums, gaining supervised, hands-on experience in dental clinics.
Accelerated Dental Programs
Some schools offer accelerated programs in which students may earn a bachelor’s degree and complete dental school in seven years or less. In the first few years of study, students take on a heavy course load in pre-dental topics, such as the natural and physical sciences. To move on to the dental education component, students must meet program-specified grade point averages and DAT scores. In the final years, students take advanced courses in dentistry to earn dental degrees.
Licensure Requirements
Dental school graduates must obtain licensure from their state board of dentistry to practice in the profession. To attain licensure, candidates must pass both a written exam and a practical exam. The state or a regional agency typically administers the practical exam; however, the American Dental Association’s Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations administers the written component, the National Board Dental Examinations.
Postdoctoral Training
Dentists may choose to specialize in a particular field of dentistry, such as orthodontics or pediatric dentistry. To become a specialist, dentists must complete two to four years of postdoctoral education, and they might be required to complete a two-year residency program in their field of choice. These professionals also need to earn a specialty license, which could entail passing a state-administered specialty exam.
There are many different career paths you can take within dentistry including pediatric dentistry, orthodontics, and dental surgery; but first, you must obtain a bachelor’s degree, pass the Dental Admissions Test, earn a dental degree, and obtain your dental license.
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