Dentistry is a popular and exciting career choice for those interested in oral health and medicine. If you want to learn about how to become a dentist in the US, the following guide would be of great use to you.

What Do Dentists Do

Dentists are trained medical professionals who deal with problems relating to a patient’s teeth, gums and other parts of the mouth. They provide medical advice and instructions on oral health and the diet choices which affect it.

Following is a list of the typical duties of a dentist:

  • Fill cavities and remove decay from teeth
  • Remove or repair defected teeth
  • Apply whitening agents or sealants on teeth
  • Administer anesthesia to help with pain relief during dental procedures
  • Prescribe medicine
  • Examine reports and X-Rays for the teeth, jaw, gums etc
  • Advise patients about diet choices, flossing and other elements of dental care
  • Take impressions of the teeth

Types of Dentists

Most dentists are general practitioners and take care of a variety of dental needs. However, there are certain areas that you can choose to specialize in:

  • Dental Anesthesiologists
  • Dental Public Health Specialists
  • Endodontists
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologists
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
  • Oral Pathologists
  • Orthodontists
  • Pediatric Dentists
  • Periodontists

Requirements to Become a Dentist

The requirements to become a dentist can be divided into the following three categories:

  1. Education(MCAT)
  2. Aspiring dentists need to complete a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD) program, also known as a Doctor of Dental Medicine. This program should be accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).

  1. Training
  2. Once the required education credentials have been achieved, dentists need to complete a training session, which typically lasts 2-4 years. This is in the form of a residency through a CODA accredited program.

  1. Licensing
  2. After meeting all the education and training requirements, candidates for dentistry are required to get a license to practice. This requirement is applicable to all states in the US. To get the license, aspiring dentists will have to clear the National Board of Dental Exam along with a state clinical exam.

How to Become a Dentist

Licensure requirements for dentists may vary from state to state, but generally, they have to follow these steps to become a dentist:

  1. Enroll in a Bachelor’s Degree
  2. Before you can set yourself on the path to become a dentist, you will need to have at least a bachelor’s degree. This is placed as the eligibility criteria for most dental colleges. Even though no specific pre-dental studies are required at this stage, students are encouraged to take courses in chemistry, physics and biology.

  1. Clear the Dental Admission Test
  2. This test is designed to test the students’ understanding of the field on a basic level, along with general aptitude. Most colleges would have a minimum score requirement on this test to be eligible to apply.

  1. Get a Dental Degree
  2. Dentists typically need a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry/Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). During the first two years of this degree, students will be focusing on classroom and lab studies in subject areas such as health and basic dental science. Courses would include oral pathology, periodontics, dental anesthesia, pharmacology and radiology. The last two years of dental school focus on clinical practice and give students the chance to diagnose and treat patients under the supervision of professional dentists.

  1. Complete the Required Training
  2. All dental specialties require additional training before dentists can begin practice. This training session usually lasts around 2-4 years and must be done through a CODA-accredited program. Training requirements tend to vary according to the specialty you have chosen.

  1. Get Your Licensure
  2. All dentists are required to be licensed by the state they work in. The requirements for licensing are different across states. Generally, most states require dentists to have a DDS or a DMD degree, pass the National Board Dental Examinations and pass a state or regional clinical exam. Dentists who want to practice in a particular specialty will have to get an additional license for it.

  1. Go for a Specialization
  2. While most dentists work as general dentistry practitioners, some opt for specializations in certain fields. Oral and maxillofacial pathology, orthodontics, pediatric dentistry and dental public health are some of the most common options available. Becoming a specialist would require an additional 2 to 4 years of education, and in some cases, a residency of up to 2 years before you can get a specialty state license.

Salaries and Job Growth

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dentists made an annual median income of $156,240 in 2018. The number of jobs in this field in 2018 was 155,000, and that number is expected to go up by 11,600 by 2028. This translates into a growth rate of 7%, which is higher than the average for all occupations.

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and Orthodontists made the highest amount of money in this field, earning lucrative salaries of $208,000 or more, followed by Prosthodontists, who made 176,540.

The top industries for dentists were offices of dentists, outpatient care centers, offices of physicians and the government. The demand for dentists is set to increase as the population ages. Members of the aging baby-boom generation will need frequent dental work done.

Along with that, with an increased use of dental implants and bridges, the demand for complicated dental work is expected to rise in the coming years. The need for cosmetic and functional dental reconstruction is also going to increase in the coming times. Therefore, job prospects for dentists are expected to be really good.