While graduation from a dental school accredited by the American Dentist Association is necessary
to become a dentist, the educational path to be a dentist begins in college. An undergraduate
degree usually is required for admittance to dental school. Although any major is acceptable,
dental schools expect applicants to have undergraduate coursework in biology, general chemistry,
physics, English, and organic chemistry. Applicants must also submit their score from the Dental
A typical dental school program takes four years to complete. The degree that a dental school
graduate receives is called either a doctor of dental surgery (DDS) or a doctor of medicine in
dentistry (DMD). The only difference between the degrees is their names.
The First Two Years of Dental School
Dental school students usually spend their first two years of study in the classroom and laboratory.
During this period, the curriculum at most dental schools includes biochemistry, anatomy,
physiology, pharmacology, and microbiology. Additional coursework focuses on dental aspects of
anatomy, pathology, and histology.
In the first two years, dental students learn to diagnosis and treat dental conditions. They practice
their lessons on models of the mouth and teeth.
The Final Two Years of Dental School
During the last two years of dental school, students provide direct patient care under the
supervision of a licensed dentist. Many schools have their students do clinical rotations in off-
campus settings such as hospitals and community clinics.
One goal of clinical rotations is to expose students to patients in all stages and conditions of life,
including the elderly, the disabled, and those with chronic disease. Another goal of clinical rotations
is to teach students interpersonal skills needed to work with other healthcare professionals and to
learn to provide care in a team approach.
Also during these years, students learn the principles of practice management, which involves the
non-clinical skills needed to run a dental practice. Students may be instructed in leadership,
communication, business skills, and working with personnel.
Becoming a Dentist
After graduation from dental school, the would-be dentist must pass a test from the National Board
of Dental Examinations. Finally, most states require that the dentist candidate also pass the state's
clinical exam to be licensed to practice there. Some states, such as Ohio and California, allow
postgraduate training to substitute for the exam. In contrast, New York mandates postgraduate
study instead of a test.
Many dental schools offer specialized postgraduate programs for graduates of general dentistry
school. Such programs require two to six years of additional study and may include a residency.
The field of dentistry has nine recognized specialities:
Dental Public Health
Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology:
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics