All 50 States and the District of Columbia require dentists to be licensed.
To qualify for a license in most States, candidates must graduate from an
accredited dental school and pass written and practical examinations.
Education and training. In 2008, there
were 57 dental schools in the United States accredited by the American Dental
Association's (ADA's) Commission on Dental Accreditation. Dental schools require
a minimum of 2 years of college-level predental education prior to admittance.
Most dental students have at least a bachelor's degree before entering dental
school, although a few applicants are accepted to dental school after 2 or 3
years of college and complete their bachelor's degree while attending dental
school. According to the ADA, 85 percent of dental students had a bachelor�s
degree prior to beginning their dental program in the 2006-07 academic year.
High school and college students who want to become dentists should take
courses in biology, chemistry, physics, health, and mathematics. College
undergraduates planning on applying to dental school are required to take many
science courses. Because of this, some choose a major in a science, such as
biology or chemistry, whereas others take the required science coursework while
pursuing a major in another subject.
All dental schools require applicants to take the Dental Admissions Test
(DAT). When selecting students, schools consider scores earned on the DAT,
applicants' grade point averages, and information gathered through
recommendations and interviews. Competition for admission to dental school is
Dental school usually lasts 4 academic years. Studies begin with classroom
instruction and laboratory work in science, including anatomy, microbiology,
biochemistry, and physiology. Beginning courses in clinical sciences, including
laboratory techniques, are also completed. During the last 2 years, students
treat patients, usually in dental clinics, under the supervision of licensed
dentists. Most dental schools award the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery
(DDS). Others award an equivalent degree, Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD).
Licensure. Licensing is required to
practice as a dentist. In most States, licensure requires passing written and
practical examinations in addition to having a degree from an accredited dental
school. Candidates may fulfill the written part of the State licensing
requirements by passing the National Board Dental Examinations. Individual
States or regional testing agencies administer the written or practical
Individuals can be licensed to practice any of the 9 recognized specialties
in all 50 States and the District of Columbia. Requirements include 2 to 4 years
of postgraduate education and, in some cases, the completion of a special State
examination. A postgraduate residency term also may be required, usually lasting
up to 2 years. Most State licenses permit dentists to engage in both general and
Other qualifications. Dentistry requires
diagnostic ability and manual skills. Dentists should have good visual memory;
excellent judgment regarding space, shape, and color; a high degree of manual
dexterity; and scientific ability. Good business sense, self-discipline, and
good communication skills are helpful for success in private practice.
Advancement. Dentists and aspiring
dentists who want to teach or conduct research full time usually spend an
additional 2 to 5 years in advanced dental training, in programs operated by
dental schools or hospitals. Many private practitioners also teach part time,
including supervising students in dental school clinics.
Some dental school graduates work for established dentists as associates for
1 to 2 years to gain experience and save money to equip an office of their own.
Most dental school graduates, however, purchase an established practice or open
a new one immediately after graduation.
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook
Handbook, 2010-11 Edition
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Dentist Job Outlook