What Does It Take to Be a Dentist?

dentists graduating from dental school

As a patient, you may wonder exactly what qualifications you need in order to poke around other people’s mouths! Many people don’t know exactly how much time and preparation goes into learning dentistry. If you’re someone who wants to work in the dental field or just plain curious, here’s a quick guide on how to become a dentist.

Go to College and Pass the DAT

Aspiring dental students must first complete a four-year undergraduate program at a college or university. Usually, this involves studying biology, chemistry, and other sciences. Students are also encouraged to “shadow” a dentist to learn more about the career path. Before applying to dental school, they must pass a Dental Admissions Test (DAT); a comprehensive exam that covers basic academic subjects like math and science. Good grades and letters of recommendation are also required to get into dental school.

Go to Dental School and Pass Exams

Like medical school, dental schools offer four-year programs. The first two years are mostly spent studying the fundamentals of science and dentistry, after which students are tested on what they have learned. In the last two years of dental school, students spend more time practicing on actual patients and less time in the classroom. Finally, there is yet another exam they need to pass before they get their degree. In some areas, students also have to take a postgraduate training course.

Once a graduate has completed the test, he or she becomes either a Doctor of Dental Surgery or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (A side note: There isn’t actually any difference between these titles; both degrees have the same requirements!). Many people might consider this the “end of the line” for dental education.

Continue Your Education

In reality, dentists never stop learning. After graduating, some may choose to become specialists in specific subjects like orthodontics or periodontics, which typically requires two to six more years of education. For those who haven’t been counting, that means that dentists spend eight to fourteen years in school! Even dentists who don’t become specialists are usually required to take continuing education classes to stay licensed. While this might seem like an overwhelming amount of studying, the truth is that dentists love to keep learning so they can give you the best possible treatment with the latest techniques and advances.

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