If you’re thinking about dentistry as a career, you have a lot of great options to consider — and it all starts with dental school. Whether you go into private practice or hospital emergency care, conduct advanced laboratory research or teach future dentists, you’ll need to get your Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) first.
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Things to consider
Most DDS or DMD programs take four years to complete, and you’ll go from there for dental specialties like oral and maxillofacial surgery and pediatric dentistry.
Once you decide on dental school, look for an accredited program. The Commission on Dental Accreditation has a collaborative peer review accreditation process. This process evaluates the quality of over 1,300 dental education programs nationwide, including dental schools, specialty programs, clinical fellowships, and allied dental training programs.
Dentistry covers all aspects of oral health, including maintenance and cosmetic surgery. As a dentist, you’ll diagnose health problems, prescribe treatment, and manage care for dental disorders and diseases. The median salary for dentists is around $154,640. It’s a rewarding profession that combines art and science.
How to prepare for dental school
Before you head to dental school and take on the application process, there are several things you can do to get ready.
For starters, you’ll want to make sure your natural science bases are covered. This means you’ll need to take courses in college such as general biology, organic and inorganic chemistry, and physics. You can also volunteer or shadow at your family dentist, orthodontist, or pediatric dentist.
Most important, you’ll want to check with your undergrad school and prospective desired dental programs to find out the specific program-based recommendations. These can vary from school to school, and some institutions may offer opportunities for combined degrees. Follow the specific recommendations that will give you the optimal undergraduate experience for pursuing the dental school program of your choice.
Applying to a four-year dental program is a lot like applying to other graduate programs. To be considered for an accredited program, you’ll need to complete your undergraduate degree at a four-year college or university. Each accredited dental education program has its own application process and set of admission requirements. You’ll also need to prepare for and take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). The DAT has been operating nationally since 1950, and it is administered year-round by the American Dental Association (ADA).
The DAT gives dental schools the common metrics they need to compare the qualifications of applicants like you and your peers. The exam measures general academic aptitude, comprehension of scientific information, and perceptual ability. It’s a computer-adaptive exam that is made up of four distinct tests: Survey of Natural Sciences, Perceptual Ability Test, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning.
Dental school admissions committees use your DAT score along with your academic record to decide whether you have the academic foundation that will help you build a successful dental career.
What does that mean? A high score on the DAT will have a direct, positive impact on your dental school application.