Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you are considering a career as a dentist, be sure to study biology, chemistry, physics, health, and mathematics in high school. English and foreign language courses are also important for meeting college entrance requirements and developing good communications skills. Participation in extracurricular activities will also enhance your background because it provides opportunities to interact with many different people and develop interpersonal skills.

Postsecondary Training 

The dental profession is selective, and standards are high. Your college GPA and the amount of college education you have completed at the time of application are carefully considered in the admissions process for dental school. In addition, all dental schools approved by the American Dental Association require applicants to pass the Dental Admissions Test, which gauges a student's prospects of success or failure in dental school. Information on tests and testing centers may be obtained by visiting http://www.ada.org/en/education-careers/dental-admission-test.

Dental schools require at least two years of college-level pre-dental education. However, about 85 percent of students entering dental schools have already earned a bachelor's degree. Professional training in a dental school generally requires four academic years. Many dental schools have an interdisciplinary curriculum in which the dental student studies basic science with students of medicine, pharmacy, and other health professions. Clinical training is frequently begun in the second year. Most schools now feature a department of community dentistry, which involves a study of communities, urban problems, and sociology, and includes treatment of patients from the community. Generally the degree of doctor of dental surgery (D.D.S.) is granted upon graduation, although some schools give the degree of doctor of dental medicine (D.D.M. or D.M.D.).

Dental students who wish to enter a specialized field should plan on postgraduate study ranging from two to five years. A specialist can only become certified by passing specialty board exams. A dentist may obtain further training as a dental intern or resident in an approved hospital.

Other Education or Training 

Dentists must continually keep abreast of developments in the profession by reading professional magazines and journals, taking short-term graduate courses, and participating in webinars, seminars, and classes provided by professional associations. The American Dental Association offers online classes on topics such as practice management, clinical dentistry, endodontics, implantology, and restorative procedures. It also offers continuing education lectures and seminars through in-person classes at its Chicago headquarters and at its annual meeting. At its New Dentist Conference, a sub-conference of its annual meeting, dentists who have been out of dental school for less than 10 years can take CE courses on leadership, practice issues, and other topics. 

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require dentists to be licensed. To qualify for a license in most states, a candidate must graduate from a dental school accredited by the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation and pass written and practical examinations. Candidates may fulfill the written part of the exam by passing the National Board Dental Examinations. Individual states or regional testing agencies give the written or practical examinations. Approximately 45 states grant licenses to dentists from other states based on their credentials. Dentists who intend to practice in a specialty area must be licensed or certified in about 20 states.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Dentists begin gaining experience while in a dental education program by serving an internship or residency. Manual dexterity and scientific ability are important, as are steady hands, good spatial judgment, and some artistic ability. Good vision is required because of the detailed work dentists do. Interpersonal and strong communication skills are important when working with patients and other dental staff and professionals. Dentists who operate their own practices must have good business mangemnent skills.