How To Become a Dentist
Depending on which country one lives in, there are different routes to becoming a dentist. In some countries, high school graduates enroll in dental school. Some countries train medical school graduates to specialize in dentistry.
In the United States, dental schools choose top graduates of 4-year colleges for admission to dental school. These college students may choose any primary course of studies, such as mathematics, chemistry, English, Music, or Art History. However, they must take a series of courses or prerequisites to prepare for dental school.
Most prerequisites are science courses, including one year of biology, two years of chemistry, and a year of physics. These courses enable the prospective dental student to understand applied science courses they will encounter in dental schools, such as pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, and dental materials. Communication is essential for dentists; many dental schools ask that their applicants take at least one semester of writing-intensive humanity or social science course.
Dental school admissions officers appreciate applicants who do well in the prerequisite courses. The average grade point average (GPA) for the first-year class this year is 3.4, with a range of 3.2 to 3.7 overall and 3.15 to 3.6 in science courses. (For those who don’t speak college admissions, that’s a high B to A average on a four-point scale.)
There is a test similar to the SAT or ACT for application to dental school, the Dental Admissions Test or DAT. Information on the DAT is available on the American Dental Association’s Web site, www.ada.org/prof/ed/testing/dat/.
The DAT tests knowledge of natural sciences, reading comprehension, and math. A particular part of the DAT tests for the ability to understand three-dimensional drawings; that part is called the Perceptual Abilities test.
Mark Gonthier, Assistant Dean for admissions of Tufts University School of Dental Medicine (TUSDM), describes the ideal dental school applicant.
“We are looking for mature, well-rounded students capable of handling the rigor of the basic sciences curriculum and are equally adept at and committed to providing quality comprehensive patient oral health care,” he said.
Gonthiers comments provide keen insight for college students. It is not enough to do well in coursework. Balance that with social activities, sports or exercise, and volunteerism. Working, volunteering, or observing in a dental clinic environment is equally important.
TUSDM is a private university. It does not prefer applicants from a particular region, state, or even country. Public dental schools, the Medical College of Georgia, the State University of New York, and the University of California are unlikely to accept students from outside their state or states with which they have admissions agreements.
There are no age requirements for dental school. The age range of the TUSDM first-year class, the class of 2011, is 22 to 39. Many dentists were both older and younger when beginning their studies.
Considering all of this, what are the chances of a qualified applicant’s acceptance to Tufts? According to Gonthier, Tufts will invite 300 of 4,300 applicants this year. Only 165 of those will walk through the school’s front door on the first day.
Upon entering dental school, dental students study fundamental and applied sciences for two years. Some first and second-year courses are common in dental schools and medical schools. Others are unique to dental education. Even first-year dental students spend some time in the clinic learning to work with actual patients.
Second-year students spend more time on dental courses and in the clinic. Third-year students continue taking regular dental courses, including courses on psychology and ethics. Third and fourth-year students spend much of their time with patients in the school clinic. Fourth-year dental students spend most of their time treating patients in the school clinic and on rotations to outside clinics. The most exciting rotation is a 5-week externship in a clinic away from school.
Dental students treat their patients with the close supervision of their professors. A simple procedure that will take a licensed dentist 13 to 30 minutes may take a third-year dental student a few hours. That is partly due to working carefully and equally due to the time professors take to check the student work. Sometimes, professors jump in to help students complete procedures on time or to show the student how to do it better.
Dentists take and pass national and regional examinations while they are in school and after to obtain a license to practice. Some of these exams are written, and some require the dentist to treat live patients with actual conditions such as cavities or periodontitis (gum disease).
If you want to become a dentist, speak with your college advisor or dentist. Other resources include dental school admissions departments and your dentist.