A big dazzling smile would boost anyone’s personality, and being a dentist, you can ensure your patients go back with a bright smile reflecting pearly white and healthy teeth. Are you ready to unlock the secrets to becoming a superhero of smiles? But what is the process of becoming a dentist as a US citizen?
Becoming a dentist is not a piece of cake or everyone’s cup of tea. There is a long educational path that you need to follow with sheer dedication and a significant amount of money. In this guide, we will explore all the major steps you need to take to become a dentist in the US. Interested in making a difference in people’s lives by brightening their teeth? Stick till the end.
Role of Dentists in Healthcare
Dentists are basically doctors with specializations in oral health. They have a very crucial role in healthcare as dentists help maintain the good oral health of their patients, which significantly impacts their overall health. Dentists diagnose oral diseases and create a proper treatment plan for the disorder to help the patient regain oral health.
Here are a few things that a dentist could help you with:
- Help prevent disease infection
- Promote oral health
- Interpret the X-ray reports
- Focus on early detection
- Spread awareness about oral hygiene practices
- Monitor the safe development of teeth and jaws
- Diagnose various oral diseases
- Make treatment plans to overcome diseases and restore oral health
In short, dentists are those superheroes that fight against the villains who are always ready to harm your teeth and gums. They use their expertise to keep our smiles bright and healthy.
Educational Requirements of a Dentist
Before you go further, it is important to know that becoming a dentist is a long and tiring process. However, if you have the dedication and passion, you can definitely surpass all the challenges and become a dentist. Let us break down the path to becoming a dentist in five steps to understand the educational requirements of this profession.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
First things first, you need to get a bachelor’s degree in either Biology, Chemistry, or Physics. Since these sciences help you better understand the fundamentals and build a strong foundation, they are preferred. Biology typically has more weightage than the rest as it helps us understand more about life.
Step 2: Gain the Necessary Dental Experience
Before taking admission to a dental school, you should gain some dental experience to understand if that field is actually for you or not. You can do internships or volunteer to understand how things work in this field. You can take your school’s help to find internship opportunities in dentistry where you will be able to get directly in contact with the patients.
This not only gives you an understanding of the field but also increases your chances of getting admission to a dental college. This experience is necessary for some colleges, and applicants are typically judged on this basis.
Step 3: Attempt Dental Admission Test (DAT)
Administered by the American Dental Association (ADA), DAT is a standardized test that measures your academic and scientific knowledge. Your knowledge will be checked in the various science subjects, including organic chemistry, biology, and general chemistry, reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning, and perceptual ability.
Usually, all the dental schools in the US demand this test. You can use various preparative materials, including courses and book reviews, to prepare for DAT. However, it is essential to note that you can attempt DAT up to three times only.
Step 4: Get Your Admission Secured to a Dental School
Once you pass the DAT, it’s time to find the dental school that best suits your needs. The factors that you need to consider include cost, location, and curriculum offered by the institute. Once you secure your admission, you need to complete a four-year program that is either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM).
Step 5: Residency Program
To get training in a specialized area of dentistry, you may need to complete a residency program. This usually lasts for 2 to 3 years. However, this is completely optional, and only certain specialties require training before you practice them independently. Not to forget that residency programs have very high tuition fees.
Licensing and Certification
Like in any other field, licensing, and certification in dentistry ensures that, being a dentist, you have the knowledge, training, and skills to provide dental care services to patients safely.
Before acquiring a license, you should have a DDS or DDM degree from an accredited institute in the US. You must also pass the National Board Dental Examination to get the license to practice independently in the US. NBDE is a standardized test administered by the Joint Commission on National Dental Examination, which is an agency of the ADA. This test comprises Part I and Part II, which students can attempt in their second year and final year of dental school, respectively. Other than that, there is a clinical licensing exam specific to different states that a dentist must pass to get the license. Here is a general requirement to get a dental license:
- Clinical Licensing Exam
Certification, on the other hand, is optional. Certification generally indicates expertise in a specific area of dentistry, like pediatric dentistry. Apart from traditional school education, a dentist has to complete additional education and training and pass a written test to be eligible for the certification.
Types of Dentists
With specialized training and education after dental school, you can earn a good amount of money. Let us see the different types of specializations that you can do as a dentist.
- Pediatric Dentists: They specialize in the oral health of children. They can treat children of all ages, from infancy to adolescence.
- Periodontists: These dentists specialize in treating problems related to gums.
- Prosthodontists: They are trained in dental prostheses, which include implants, bridges, etc. Prosthodontists understand the design, fabrication, and placement of the prosthesis.
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons: They are trained to perform surgery on the mouth, face, and jaws.
- Oral and maxillofacial radiology: They specialize in the use of radiographic imaging technology to diagnose and treat various conditions like dental trauma, oral cancer, etc.
- Dental anesthesiology: It is associated with the administration of anesthesia during oral procedures.
- Dental public health: A dentist specializing in dental public health does research and performs public health interventions to find methods to continuously improve the health of the general public.
- Endodontics: The conditions that affect dental pulp and tissues surrounding teeth roots are diagnosed and treated by endodontics. They have expertise in performing root canal therapy.
Before planning to enter dental school, it is necessary to be aware of the cost of this whole path and what you will get in return as a salary. Accept it or not, the secondary, if not primary, goal of getting a practical degree like that of dentistry is to earn money. So let’s move on to have a financial outlook on dentistry in the US.
Since it all starts with a bachelor’s degree of four years, it will cost around $10,560 if you choose to study at a public university. Moving on to dental school, which again lasts for four years, the student has to pay a handsome amount of $37,877 per year in the case of a public institute. The cost will double up for a private dental school. The living expenses, textbooks, and clinical supplies are excluded from this amount.
Licensing and Certification Cost
These eight years of education will go waste if you do not manage to get a license. To get a license, you may need to pay an application fee and some examination fees that will help you get the license.
For specialization, there are again some fees required for education and training. However, these costs vary depending on the area you want to specialize in.
Earnings & Salary
The income earned from practicing dentistry is all that for which you struggled for so many years. You will be happy to know that dentists enjoy a handsome amount of salary in the US. General dentists have the lowest salary, while specialized dentists earn far more than them.
The entry-level salary is around $122,000 per year, which goes to $218,000 with 20+ years of experience.
Becoming a dentist is indeed a rigorous and demanding process that requires a lot of effort, time, brain, and money. The whole path from getting a bachelor’s degree to going to a dental school and finally gaining the license is very challenging. But undoubtedly, the results are fruitful.
Don’t get disheartened seeing the cost; there are certainly some dental schools that offer scholarships to students with exceptional results or on a need basis. You just need to plan carefully and start saving for your dental school.