To become a dentist, a person needs to earn a bachelor's degree, pass the dental admission test (DAT), and attend a four-year dental school. A dentist also is required to be licensed in the state in which he practices. An aspiring dentist should possess a solid background in natural sciences, as well as dexterity and good communication skills.
In college, a person looking to become a dentist should major in biology or a related field. Undergraduate coursework should be relevant to what the student will see in dental school, such as biology, physics, and anatomy, as well as inorganic and organic chemistry. In addition, a person may benefit from taking psychology and business courses. Some colleges offer pre-dental programs, and advisers should be able to help students design a course of study that will best prepare him for dental school.
After earning an undergraduate degree, the dental school candidate must pass the DAT before he can be accepted to a dental school. Conducted by the American Dental Association (ADA), the DAT assesses an applicant’s overall academic ability, understanding of scientific information, and perceptual capability. Generally, a person is required to take the dental admission test one year before his anticipated enrollment date.
With his DAT scores in hand, the applicant must then apply to dental schools. It's important to find a dental school that's approved by the ADA. Applicants are judged on their grade point averages, DAT scores and recommendations, as well as other factors like extra curricular activities and internships. Some schools require personal interviews prior to acceptance. Many dental schools are part of the Associated American Dental Schools Application Services, which enables applicants to apply to multiple dental schools simultaneously for a fee.
While in dental school, an aspiring dentist will study the health sciences, which include anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology and pathology, as well as radiology, dental anesthesiology, physiology, and pharmacology. A dental school student will learn how the health sciences can be applied to dentistry and patient care. Other topics covered in dental school include business management, community health, and professional ethics.
Generally, the first two years of dental school are concentrated on coursework and lab studies. A student will be involved in lab sessions in which he must apply the dental techniques learned in class. During the final two years of dental school, a student will engage in clinical practices and treat patients under the direction of a dental instructor.
Once the dental candidate graduates from dental school, he then must pass the National Board Dental Examination in order to receive his state license. Administered by the ADA, the test covers general health topics, as well as topics specific to dentistry. Every two years, dentists are required to renew their state licenses.