Being a dentist is an incredibly rewarding career, and beyond helping our patients maintain lifelong healthy smiles, we hope our team inspires at least a few budding dentists out there! We want to make sure you know all the different directions you can go within the field of dentistry because there are more options than you might think.
To become a dentist, you should find out the prerequisites for which courses to take in your undergraduate program to qualify for the dental school you want to attend. Most require several science courses and labs, and a four-year degree is recommended. A year before dental school, you must pass the Dental Admissions Test and apply. Dental school takes four years to complete.
Here’s one example of what dental school is like:
Some dentists come out of dental school with a DDS attached to their name while others have a DMD. DDS means Doctor of Dental Surgery and DMD means Doctor of Dental Medicine, and which one you get depends on which school you go to, but the qualifications are the same. Dentists who want to specialize in a particular area of dentistry will go on to get additional training and certification in their specialty area.
The dental career everyone is most familiar with is the private practice dentist, meaning an individual dentist or a partnership working with local patients in their own practice. That’s the kind of dentist we all go to for our normal dental health needs, but not everyone who graduates from a four-year dental program goes in this direction.
Academic dentists add a teaching role and help usher in the next generation of dentists. Research dentists get to be on the cutting edge of new advancements in treatments and technology. Some dentists go international and work with organizations like the WHO, UNESCO, and FAO. Finally, there are dentists who work alongside physicians in hospitals.
About 20% of dentists undergo additional years of training in one of the nine dental specialties: Dental Public Health, Endodontics, Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, Pediatric Dentistry, Periodontics, and Prosthodontics.
Aside from the dentists themselves, other essential roles in the field of dentistry are dental hygienists, dental assistants, and dental lab technicians. Hygienists and assistants interact closely with patients to ensure a high level of care, while dental lab technicians work behind the scenes designing the dentures, crowns, and braces used by dentists. Most of these support roles require at least an associate’s degree or training program.