Career Development

How To Become a Dentist

October 1, 2021

Dentists play an important role in society, providing oral health care to patients of all ages. Dentistry provides a lucrative, lifelong career and is a rewarding way to provide service to others.

In this article, we will discuss the duties of a dentist and what it takes to pursue this career.

What does a dentist do?

A dentist is a medical professional who oversees all aspects of a person's oral hygiene. They're responsible for monitoring and treating any dental issues that may arise throughout a patient's everyday life. Their typical duties include:

  • Cleaning teeth and gums
  • Removing and filling damaged teeth and cavities
  • Prescribe appropriate medicine to treat infections and oral diseases
  • Using sealants and whitening agents to improve the look of teeth
  • Giving patients anesthetic before dental procedures
  • Taking x-rays of jaws, teeth and gums and diagnose oral diseases
  • Creating models for items such as dentures, partials and crowns
  • Giving patients proper education about how diet and oral hygiene can impact teeth and gums
  • Applying braces and other teeth correcting devices

Related: Learn About Being a Dentist

What is the average salary of a dentist?

Dentists can expect to earn an average salary of $196,221 per year. This can vary based on your location and years of experience.

How to become a dentist

College students who wish to become a dentist have several years of schooling ahead. The majority of dental school programs require four additional years of education after completing a bachelor's degree, plus students must pass accomplish additional requirements before earning a license in dentistry. Here are the steps you can expect to take while earning your degree:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree
  2. Take the Dental Admission Test (DAT)
  3. Earn a dental degree
  4. Become licensed
  5. Choose a specialization
  6. Apply for positions

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

Dental schools require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree. Your bachelor's degree does not have to be in a dental-related field. Courses in chemistry, physics and biology can be helpful when applying for dental school so it helps to do some research before applying. This way you'll know which prerequisites you need to take. Some students wish to join a dental mentoring program such as SMDEP or Summer Medical and Dental Education Program. Students can also participate in dental school preparatory programs.

2. Take the Dental Admission Test (DAT)

The DAT is required of students prior to attending dental school. Dental schools will look at your score on this exam along with your grade point average and any recommendation letters you might have. You'll want to maintain a GPA of at least 3.2 to increase your chances of getting accepted into a competitive dental program.

Read more: 7 Requirements for Dental School (With FAQs)

3. Earn a dental degree

After four years in dental school, you can earn either a Doctorate of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctorate of Dental Medicine (DMD). They both involve the same level of schooling and a similar curriculum. Students typically work in a classroom for the first two years of dental school. The last two years focus on working in a clinical setting.

4. Become licensed

Dentists are required to hold a valid license to practice dentistry. Passing the National Board Dental Examinations is required to earn your license and is a two-part test that will cover dental science, ethics and clinical procedures. In addition, candidates must pass a practical exam approved by their state's licensing board. Some states have different licensing requirements, including certification in CPR and first aid. They might also conduct a background check and an interview.

5. Choose a specialization

There are several specializations beyond a general dentistry license. Some of these include oral surgery, orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, endodontics, dento-maxillofacial radiology and many others. Your specialty will depend on the area that seems most appealing to you. Receiving further education in these specialized fields requires two to four years of additional schooling and sometimes a residency of up to two years.

6. Apply for positions

You can start your own practice at this point or you can search for open positions in clinics and hospitals. You do not have to limit where to search because dentists are needed worldwide.

Related: Dentist Resume Examples

Frequently asked questions about dentists

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and answers that should help you pursue a career as a dentist with confidence:

  • What skills should I have if I want to become a dentist?
  • What is the demand for dentists?
  • Is there a potential for growth if I am a dentist?
  • Do I have to have a degree to become a dentist?
  • Do I have to have any other certifications?
  • Do I have to work for someone or can I have my own dental practice?
  • Is there any danger of contracting a disease in the dental field?

What skills should I have if I want to become a dentist?

You should enjoy working with the public. You should have strong communication skills as well as meticulous attention to detail. You will be using small and very sharp instruments to perform dental procedures so you should have very steady hands. You should also be able to teach since you will be educating your patients on proper dental healthcare. You should be a strong team player, since you will be working with a staff of others to help you perform dental procedures.

What is the demand for dentists?

Dentistry is a fast-growing occupation. Dentists are needed in every town, village and city worldwide, no matter what income level. Dentists will always be needed as long as people have teeth. There can also be several dentists in one city, so the position can never be completely full.

Is there a potential for growth if I am a dentist?

There is potential for advancement in the dental field. This typically involves moving to a higher paying location or having your own dental practice. You can also move to a different field of dentistry if you are not happy with one field.

Do I have to have a degree to become a dentist?

Yes, to enter dental school, you must have at least a bachelor's degree. After four years in dental school, you will receive a doctorate degree.

Do I have to have any other certifications?

No, but you do have to hold a valid license to practice dentistry in your state.

Do I have to work for someone or can I have my own dental practice?

There are so many options when it comes to employment options for a dentist. You can work for a hospital or clinical setting or even start your own dental practice. Clinics can offer valuable experience if your goal is to one day start your own practice. They can give you a glimpse at the type of patients you will have in your area, along with your community's dental needs. You will also have colleagues who work with you so you can seek advice from them when needed. You will also learn to work with a team.

Is there any danger of contracting a disease in the dental field?

With proper sanitary items such as gloves and hand washing, other diseases can be prevented or the chances of catching them can be greatly reduced. The use of masks can also prevent dentists from contracting any airborne viruses. Dental tools are also disposable or sterilized after every use, so this also helps prevent the spread of disease. Dentists also use many preventative items such as disposable gowns, gloves and disposable head covers to prevent blood from getting on them.


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