What is a Pre-Dentistry Degree?

There is no distinct pre-dentistry degree. ‘Pre-dentistry’ is merely a term that students planning to go to dental school use to describe their undergraduate studies. In fact, aspiring dentists enter dental school having earned many different bachelor’s degrees.

A science program such as biology or chemistry is certainly a common choice, but it is not mandatory. In other words, a pre-dentistry student can be a psychology major, a statistics major, or a Spanish major. The key for students is to incorporate into their studies the classes needed to apply to dental school.

Program Options

Because pre-dentistry studies are undergraduate studies, the only program option for pre-dentistry students is to complete a bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor’s Degree in Any Discipline – Four Year Duration

There is not a specific degree that is required for pre-dentistry undergraduate study. According to the American College of Dentists (ACD), aspiring dentists are most likely to earn a bachelor’s in:

• Biochemistry
• Biology
• Chemistry
• Molecular Biology

Regardless of their chosen undergrad major, students planning to attend dental school must meet dental school admission requirements, which typically include:

• Biology with lab
• General Chemistry with lab
• Organic Chemistry with lab
• Physics with lab
• Calculus
• English

Aspiring dentists are also encouraged to complete classes in:

• A Foreign Language
• Anatomy and Physiology
• Microbiology and Biochemistry
• Psychology

Because pre-dentistry students are not required to earn their bachelor’s degree in a science discipline, they can easily apply their undergraduate credits to another course of study should they change their mind and decide not to apply to dental school.

Degrees Similar to Pre-Dentistry

As stated at the very beginning of this document, there is no single, specific pre-dentistry degree. Therefore, it is not possible to present other ‘similar’ degrees. It is, however, possible – and worthwhile – to provide examples of undergraduate degrees that are considered to be solid foundations for taking the Dental Admission Test (DAT), for getting accepted into dental school, and for a career as a dentist.

Biochemistry
The focus of biochemistry is the chemical processes and reactions that occur in living matter. Biochemists apply principles of both biology and chemistry to issues in many different sectors, including the environment, medicine and health, industry and manufacturing, agriculture, biofuels, and marine science.

Biology
A general biology degree program may include subjects like animal biology, invertebrate biology, vertebrate biology, cellular and molecular biology, evolution, microbiology, and ecology.

Biomedical Engineering
Simply stated, biomedical engineering uses engineering to solve health and medical problems. For example, a biomedical engineer might look for chemical signals in the body that warn of a particular disease or condition.

Biophysics
Biophysics applies the theories and methods of physics to understand how biological systems like the brain, the circulatory system, and the immune system function. Coursework includes math, chemistry, physics, engineering, pharmacology, and materials science.

Chemistry
Chemistry deals with identifying the substances that make up matter. Degree programs in chemistry focus on investigating these substances: their properties; how they interact, combine, and change; and how scientists can use chemical processes to form new substances.

English
In English degree programs, students read, study, and write about the literature and culture of the English-speaking world. Coursework also includes the history, linguistic structure, and use of the English language.

Genetics
Genetics is the study of heredity. It attempts to answer questions about how inherited traits are transmitted from parents to offspring.

Microbiology
Microbiology is the study of all living organisms that are too small to see with the naked eye. These ‘microbes’ include bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi, prions, protozoa, and algae.

Molecular Biology
Degree programs in molecular biology teach the composition, structure, and interactions of cellular molecules like nucleic acids and proteins that are essential to cell function.

Physics
Physics is a field that keeps changing as discoveries are made. This means that the field asks at least as many questions as it answers. Students of physics degree programs study matter and energy. They learn about the relationships between the measurable quantities in the universe, which include velocity, electric field, and kinetic energy.

Psychology
The scientific study of the mind and behavior is the focus of psychology degree programs. In simple terms, psychology students study the way that humans and animals act, feel, think, and learn.

Sociology
Degree programs in sociology are focused on studying groups, from two people and beyond. Sociology students examine human behavior patterns and relationships at both the micro-level and the macro-level. They study interactions between individuals as well as in families, peer groups, cultural groups, gender groups, racial groups, religious groups, and social classes.

Spanish
Spanish degree programs teach students how to speak, read, and write Spanish. Some programs focus on Spanish literature and others on the study of the linguistic structure of the Spanish language. Programs that include both a literary and a linguistic component are quite common. Some schools offer specific degrees in Spanish translation and interpretation.

Statistics
The degree field of statistics is focused on the study of probability theory and sampling theory. Students use techniques like sample survey theory and variance analysis (the quantitative investigation of the difference between actual and planned behavior) to examine the relationships between groups and measurements. In simple terms, statistics is about collecting data, organizing it, analyzing it, and interpreting it in practical ways that guide decision making in both business sectors and politics.

Skills You'll Learn

The transferable or soft skills learned during the pre-dentistry years of an aspiring dentist’s education are vital to managing the demands of both becoming and being a dental professional.

In the big picture, they fall into the six key areas of life skills identified by the World Health Organization: communication and interpersonal, decision-making and problem-solving, creative thinking and critical thinking, self-awareness and empathy, assertiveness and self-control, and resilience and the ability to cope with problems.

From a more focused perspective, below are some specific competencies associated with particular areas of study. There is, of course, some cross-over.

Science and Maths
• Analytical thinking
• Attention to detail
• Computation and data-processing
• Investigation and research
• Numeracy
• Organisation
• Problem solving
• Report writing
• Synthesising information
• Understanding statistical data

Engineering
• Analytical thinking
• Attention to detail
• Creativity
• IT competencies
• Logical thinking
• Numeracy
• Problem solving
• Project management
• Research
• Teamwork

Social Sciences
• Analysis
• Communication
• Numeracy and understanding statistical data
• Problem solving
• Project management

Arts and Humanities
• Communication
• Creativity
• Critical and evaluative thinking
• IT competencies
• Logical thinking and reasoning
• Research
• Time management
• Writing

Business and Finance
• Analysis
• Communication
• Numeracy
• Leadership
• Problem solving
• Teamwork
• Time management
• Understanding statistical data

Information Technology
• Analysis and problem solving
• Communication
• Creativity
• Interpretation and recording of data
• Logical thinking
• Numeracy
• Organization
• Project planning and management
• Research
• Teamwork

What Can You Do with a Pre-Dentistry Degree?

What every pre-dentistry student wants to do with their pre-dentistry degree, regardless of their chosen area of undergraduate study, is pass the Dental Admission Test (DAT) and be accepted into a dental school accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).

Dental Admission Test (DAT) administered under the guidance of the American Dental Association (ADA)

It is common for undergraduates to write the DAT and begin applying to dental schools in their junior year. Through a set of multiple-choice questions, the DAT allows dental schools to evaluate a candidate’s training and skill set. Many schools share their incoming student DAT score average on their website to inform undergraduates of how well they need to score to compete with other applicants.

To achieve their highest possible DAT score, students are encouraged to take advantage of assistance available to them. This includes a DAT review book, sample tests, and DAT preparation workshops. These resources are designed to ensure that students attain the best possible score, which will open doors to dental schools.

The DAT consists of these four tests:

• Survey of the Natural Sciences
• Perceptual Ability
• Reading Comprehension
• Quantitative Reasoning

Dental school is a very challenging four years of study. The first and second years are dedicated to the study of the biological sciences and the structure and function of the body and the diseases that affect it. The curriculum for these two years consists of classes such as those listed below and clinical education by practising procedures on models of the mouth and teeth.

• Anatomy
• Physiology
• Biochemistry
• Microbiology
• Pharmacology
• Dental-oriented Sciences: oral anatomy, oral pathology (disease), oral histology (study of the microscopic structure of oral cavity and its contents)

During years three and four of dental school, students spend most of their time in clinical study / direct patient care. In clinics, hospitals, and community settings and under the supervision of a clinical instructor, they learn to care for various kinds of patients including chronically ill, disabled, special care, geriatric patients, and children. They also receive some instruction in managing a dental practice.

After the final two years of dental school, students take the written National Board Dental Examination (NBDE). In addition, candidates for dental licenses in most US states must fulfill a clinical examination requirement. The objective of these exams is to test whether or not students have developed the clinical knowledge and skills that they will need to transition into unsupervised dental practice.

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