Step by step guide to becoming a dentist

Aspiring dentists need to complete years of education, training and residency before starting a practice of their own. They also need to decide on the type of dentistry they plan to pursue, whether general, pediatric or some form of oral or maxillofacial surgery. In addition to formal education, many future dentists may benefit from training in communication and management, specifically to hone the skills needed to run an office and hire, train and maintain a staff.

The path to dentistry may seem straightforward, with beginnings at the bachelor’s level and progression to dental school and residency. However, this path also requires students to consider a variety of questions and options before moving to the next level. For example, which undergraduate degrees give me the best chance to get into dental school? Does is matter? When do I apply for dental school? What does the exam cover? The following guide answers these questions and others, and discusses many of the details involved in the multi-year training process.

What does a dentist do?

In general, dentists are responsible for the oral health of their patients. This might include everything from offering advice on foods or hygiene to repairing fractured teeth or performing more invasive procedures. Dentists might handle regular cleanings and hygiene, filling cavities, extracting teeth, applying sealants or whitening agents, creating dentures, straightening teeth and writing prescriptions.

What kind of skills are required?

When contemplating a career as a dentist, take a quick inventory of your personal traits. In addition to having the patience and diligence required for oral health work, dentists must have excellent people skills in order to communicate well with colleagues and patients. They must be very good at working with their hands, trained with a variety of instruments, and very attentive to detail. For those who run their own offices, organizational and leadership skills are also a must.

The steps to becoming a dentist

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
  2. Take the Dental Acceptance  Test (DAT)
  3. Complete a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM) degree
  4. Pass National and State licensing exams