If you’re thinking about becoming a dentist, it is important to remember that there are a number of steps involved and that it can take a long time to become a dentist. In fact, the average individual will begin his or her dentistry education in high school and then continue that education at the undergraduate and graduate level for another 6 to 10 years after receiving his or her high school diploma.
The steps necessary to become a dentist do not end here, however, as an individual will then need to take the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE), obtain a license, obtain the appropriate certifications, find a practice to join, and/or open his or her own practice in order to put into use the skills learned in dental school. Individuals interested in becoming dentists must not only make their way into the field of dentistry, but must also make their way into the field before they’re old and gray. It is, therefore, important for you to know some of the things that you can do to put the time that you have to good use.
- The first thing that you should do when you’re attempting to use your time wisely is to start taking appropriate courses in high school. College prep courses and advanced high school courses in algebra, biology, chemistry, English, physics, and/or anything else that is related to a course that you may be required to take as an undergraduate will not only help you get into a program, but may also allow you to fulfill some of the basic undergraduate requirements that you would typically fulfill with actual college courses. (It is important to note, however, that a college or university will only give college credit for certain courses taken in high school. The specific courses that are considered acceptable for college credit will vary depending on the school.)
- The second thing that you should do when you’re attempting to use your time wisely is to look for a combined program. A combined program allows you to begin taking courses toward your graduate degree before you obtain your undergraduate degree, which enables you to obtain both degrees in less time.
In order to become a dentist, you will be required to complete an undergraduate program (or, in some cases, complete two to three years of an undergraduate program) before you apply to a dental school. The specific undergraduate program that you complete will vary depending on the requirements of the dental school to which you are applying; some schools accept almost any degree (as long as you have completed a series of math and science courses), while others only accept a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in biology, chemistry, physics, or another similar field.
In most cases, you will spend the first two years of your undergraduate education taking the general education courses that you need to obtain your undergraduate degree and the science courses that you need to enter a dental school. The general education courses that you will be required to take typically include one to three courses in math (two courses in calculus will fulfill the math requirement for your degree and your dental school in most cases); two English courses (this will fulfill your English requirement for both your degree and your dental school in most cases); two courses in the fine arts; one or two courses in a foreign language; one history course; two courses in the social or behavioral sciences; and two to four science courses, including one course with a lab (two courses in biology with the appropriate lab components and two courses in general chemistry with the appropriate lab components will typically fulfill the requirements for your degree and two of the requirements for dental school).
Time Requirements for Becoming a Dentist
You will then typically spend the last two years of your undergraduate education taking the courses that you need within your field of study to earn your degree. The other science courses that you will need to take before you can enter a dental school typically include one course in biochemistry, one or two courses in organic chemistry, and two courses in physics.
Once you have obtained your undergraduate degree (or have reached your junior or senior year of an undergraduate degree for a combined program), you will be able to begin your graduate education. The specific process that you must go through to begin your graduate education, however, will vary depending on the type of program that you are attempting to enter and the type of program that you are already enrolled in. If you are moving from an undergraduate program to a graduate program at a separate school, you will typically be required to fill out an Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS) form; submit your scores from the Dental Admission Test (DAT); complete a school interview; submit one, two, or three letters of recommendation; and submit a college transcript that proves that you have completed all of the courses required for admission and that you have obtained a GPA of no less than a 3.25. If you are moving from the undergraduate section of a combined program to the graduate section of a combined program, you will typically be required to meet a similar set of requirements, but some of the requirements may be waived or submitted automatically.
After you have begun taking your graduate courses, you will typically spend the first two to three years of dental school (or the last year of your undergraduate program and the first and/or second year of your graduate program) taking science courses and dental courses that are designed to teach you the concepts and procedures that you need to understand in order to practice dentistry. The science courses that you will be required to take typically include two courses in human anatomy; one course in biochemistry; one to two courses in histology; one course in microbiology; one course in pathology; one to two courses in pharmacology; and one course in physiology. The dental courses that you will be required to take can vary drastically depending on the dental school that you are attending, the type of degree that you are pursuing, and the dental subfield in which you are planning to specialize. Most dental schools, however, will require you to take courses in anesthesia, cariology, clinical dentistry, endodontics, implants, occlusion and dentures, operative dentistry, oral radiology, orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, and prosthodontics.
You will then typically spend the last two years of dental school taking clinical courses that will demonstrate and allow you to practice the techniques that you need to know in an actual office.