Want to Be a Dentist? How to Pursue a College and Career Path in Dentistry

Want to Be a Dentist? How to Pursue a College and Career Path in Dentistry

By Ginger Abbot

Have you been thinking about dentistry for your career? There are so many career paths in dentistry, but you need to know how to pursue a career path in dentistry before you get into dental care. It doesn’t happen overnight, but with some years of hard work and dedication, you’ll be able to have the career of your dreams!

Why should you go into dentistry?

The primary goal of being a dentist is to diagnose and treat many conditions that affect someone’s mouth, gums, or teeth. Dentists are in charge of completing things like root canals, cavity fillings and extractions, and giving oral care advice.

Additionally, if you open up your own practice, you can be your own boss. Dentists are essential in the healthcare system, so there is always a need for dentists, meaning you're pretty much guaranteed a job and a good salary. In any community, the dentist’s position is highly respected, and you'll be able to create lasting relationships with your patients.

If you think dentistry is for you, check out how to become a dentist below! Following the guide, you'll find some common dentist career paths — they include anything from dental assistants to dental researchers.

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree

First, you’ll need to get your high school diploma and then earn a bachelor’s degree, which dental schools require. There isn’t a specific pre-dental major, so a degree in the sciences usually works. You can choose courses in biology, chemistry, or even physics.

During your time in college, find internship opportunities and shadowing experiences. This will help you see what goes on in the life of a dentist. Plus, when you go to dental school, it’ll show that you’ve gained experience outside the classroom.

2. Take and pass the dental admission test

Once you’ve earned your bachelor’s degree, you can take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). This is a necessary step before going into dental school. The DAT helps the dental school assess whether you’re prepared for their dental program as it tests your knowledge and academic skills.

Most dental programs will need you to pass this with a minimum score. Besides the DAT, schools examine your grades from your bachelor’s degree, as well as letters of recommendation, interviews, and other testing scores. Once you pass the DAT, you can apply to dental schools.

3. Get your dental degree

After you pass the DAT and get into a dental program, you will begin to receive the necessary education and practical hands-on experience to pursue a career path in dentistry. Usually, these programs last around four years.

In the first year or two, you will learn about health and science related to dentistry. Most of this will be in the classroom. The final two years involve more clinical experience, so you'll be in a dental office under your instructors’ advisory. Upon completing dental school, you will earn a degree in dental hygiene and be either a Doctor of Dental Surgery or a Doctor of Dental Medicine.

4. Complete any license requirements

You're getting closer to becoming a dentist! Now, you have to complete the licensing requirements. These are given out by the state you'll be practicing in, so ensure you get the necessary licensure for your state, as the requirements vary.

To obtain your license, you'll have to complete exams that cover pretty much everything you learned in dental school. Other exams or certifications may be necessary depending on the state you live in, like first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certificates.

5. Decide where you want to specialize

Many who go into dental school intend to specialize in general dentistry and start their practice. However, there are many other specialization options for you. During your time at dental school, you will go over each of those options.

No matter which option you choose, never stop learning. Things will change within dentistry as technology advances and researchers discover new techniques. If you decide to start your own practice, you might have to complete a year of residency.

Career options

Below are the 12 dentist career paths that the American Dental Association (ADA) recognizes:

  • Dental Public Health
  • Dental Anesthesiology
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
  • Endodontics
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
  • Orofacial Pain
  • Oral Medicine
  • Pediatric Dentistry
  • Periodontics
  • Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
  • Prosthodontics

You can also choose to become a researcher or participate in international health care. The variety of options is immense for one dental degree!

Take the steps to help others achieve a healthy smile

One of the most rewarding parts of dentistry is that you help people gain confidence in their smiles. Dentists are essential for everyone, and if you pursue this career path, you’ll gain so many benefits!

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Ginger Abbot is a lifestyle, learning, and career writer with a passion for studying abroad. Read more of her work on Classrooms.com.

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