Becoming a Dentist
Preparing for Dental School
The American Dental Association recommends that high school students who want to become dentists get a broad exposure to science and math and consider taking advanced placement science courses. They suggest learning all you can about dentistry so you can determine if it is a good fit for you. They suggest job shadowing or volunteering at a local dental practice, attending dental camp, and joining the American Student Dental Association.
The ADA makes similar recommendations for college students and provides detailed suggestions for every year of college. For both high school and college students the ADA strongly suggests finding a mentor. They even provide questions to ask the mentor.
There are more than 50 schools of dentistry in the United States. Earning the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or the Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) usually requires 4 academic years of study. Most dental students have had 3 or more years of undergraduate studies before beginning dental school.
The first two years of dental school focus on classroom and laboratory-based education in the basic health sciences. Students also begin learning the principles of oral diagnosis and treatment. First they may practice on manikins and models. Later they may begin caring for real patients.
In years 3 and 4, students continue learning dentistry as they care for patients under the supervision of dental faculty. Often they work in community clinics, outpatient clinics and hospitals. They also take courses in management and communication skills.
Postgraduate education is required to become a dental specialist, such as an orthodontist, periodontist, pediatric dentist, public health dentist, or oral and maxillofacial surgeon.