Before we get into the details of how to become a dentist in the US, let us first take a look at what the job of a dentist entails.
What Does a Dentist Do
Dentists perform a variety of tasks that may vary according to the specialty and level of experience. However, typical duties of dentists in the US include:
- Remove decay from teeth and fill cavities
- Repair or remove damaged teeth
- Place sealants or whitening agents on teeth
- Administer anesthetics to keep patients from feeling pain during procedures
- Prescribe antibiotics or other medications
- Examine x rays of teeth, gums, the jaw, and nearby areas in order to diagnose problems
- Make models and measurements for dental appliances, such as dentures
- Teach patients about diets, flossing, the use of fluoride, and other aspects of dental care
This information has been extracted from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, for Dentists in 2018.
Steps to Become a Dentist in the US
In order to become a dentist in any state in the US, applicants need to be licensed. But to get to that point, the following steps must be fulfilled:
- Get a Bachelor’s Degree
An undergraduate degree is considered a prerequisite to a dental degree. Therefore, while being enrolled in a 4-year long bachelor’s program, you are advised to take relevant courses in biology, anatomy and pre-medicine. These choices would help you in the early years of dental school.
- Give the Dental Admissions Test (DAT)
This is a standardized test meant to check your ability and aptitude when it comes to dental knowledge. Specific dental schools may have their own standards for the minimum score on this test. In addition to the DAT scores, most dental schools would take into account some additional factors as well. These would include grade point averages, letters of recommendation and interview sessions, among other things.
- Obtain a Dental Degree
This is a four-year long degree and results in a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree or a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS). Dental programs ought to be accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) and comprise of four years of full-time study. Coursework typically includes subjects such as local anesthesia, periodontics, anatomy and radiology. The first two years of this degree would involve classroom learning, while the last two years would involve practice under the supervision of a licensed dentist.
- Get a License
Once you have completed the minimum educational qualifications, you may apply for licensure to practice. All states require dentists to be licensed, though the requirements to do so would vary. One common requirement placed by all states is passing the National Board Dental Examination. This is a 2-part exam that covers dental sciences, clinical procedures and medical ethics. In addition to this, candidates may also be required to pass a state or region-based examination, as required by their local state board. Some states have other requirements as well, such as a CPR certification, a background check or an interview.
- Consider Getting Certified
Even though you can begin practice as a general dentist, getting a specialization would increase your chances of employment, along with putting you in a higher salary bracket. You can go for various options, such as oral and maxillofacial surgery, dentofacial orthopedics, dental public health and pediatric dentistry etc. Becoming a specialist would mean an additional 2 to 4 years of education and training. Following the completion of education requirements for a specialty, candidates will have to earn a specialty license as well.
How Much Does a Dentist Earn in US
The annual median pay for dentists in 2018 was $156,240 per year. The top paid dentists were oral and maxillofacial surgeons, followed by orthodontists and prosthodontists. The top paying states for general dentists were Delaware, paying $264,440 in annual mean wages, followed by Alaska, paying $259,350 and Rhode Island with a salary of $254,190.