Is becoming a dentist right for me?

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What do dentists do?
Career Satisfaction
Are dentists happy with their careers?
What are dentists like?

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How to become a Dentist

Becoming a dentist involves completing several years of education and training. Here are the general steps to become a dentist:

  • Obtain a Bachelor's Degree: The first step to becoming a dentist is to complete a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. While there is no specific major required for admission to dental school, most dental programs require applicants to complete pre-dentistry coursework in science-related fields such as biology, chemistry, and physics.
  • Pass the Dental Admission Test (DAT): Before applying to dental school, aspiring dentists must take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). The DAT is a standardized exam that assesses applicants' academic ability and scientific knowledge in areas such as biology, chemistry, and perceptual ability.
  • Complete a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) Program: Upon successful completion of a bachelor's degree and the DAT, aspiring dentists must enroll in and complete a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) program at an accredited dental school. Dentistry programs typically take four years to complete and include a combination of classroom instruction, laboratory work, and clinical training.
  • Obtain Licensure: After completing dental school, graduates must obtain licensure to practice dentistry in the state where they intend to work. Licensure requirements vary by state but generally involve passing the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE) and a state-specific clinical examination. Some states may also require dentists to complete additional continuing education courses or training before obtaining licensure.
  • Consider Specialization (Optional): After obtaining licensure, some dentists choose to pursue specialized training. Specialization typically involves completing a residency program and passing additional certification examinations (see below).
  • Continuing Education: Dentists are required to participate in continuing education courses on an ongoing basis to maintain licensure and stay current with advancements in the field of dentistry. Continuing education requirements vary by state but typically involve completing a specified number of hours of approved coursework every renewal period.

Specialized Training and Certification
Dentists have the opportunity to pursue specialized training and certification in various areas of dentistry. Some of the most common specializations and certifications for dentists include:

  • Orthodontics: Dentists who specialize in orthodontics focus on the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of malocclusions (improper bites) and misaligned teeth. To become an orthodontist, dentists must complete a residency program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) and pass the American Board of Orthodontics (ABO) certification examination.
  • Endodontics: Endodontists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and injuries affecting the dental pulp and roots of the teeth. To become an endodontist, dentists must complete a CODA-accredited endodontic residency program and pass the American Board of Endodontics (ABE) certification examination.
  • Periodontics: Periodontists focus on the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of gum diseases and other conditions affecting the supporting structures of the teeth, including the gums and bones. To become a periodontist, dentists must complete a CODA-accredited periodontics residency program and pass the American Board of Periodontology (ABP) certification examination.
  • Prosthodontics: Prosthodontists specialize in the restoration and replacement of missing teeth and oral structures. To become a prosthodontist, dentists must complete a CODA-accredited prosthodontics residency program and pass the American Board of Prosthodontics (ABP) certification examination.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery: Oral and maxillofacial surgeons perform surgical procedures to treat diseases, injuries, and abnormalities affecting the mouth, jaws, face, and neck. To become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, dentists must complete a CODA-accredited oral and maxillofacial surgery residency program and obtain certification from the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (ABOMS).
  • Pediatric Dentistry: Pediatric dentists specialize in providing dental care to infants, children, adolescents, and individuals with special needs. To become a pediatric dentist, dentists must complete a CODA-accredited pediatric dentistry residency program and pass the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry (ABPD) certification examination.