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Dental Career Path

Steps to becoming a dentist:

  • Job shadow with an established dentist or dental specialist for first-hand exposure to clinical practice.
  • Research dental schools and residency programs for an understanding of prerequisites and admissions requirements.
  • Satisfy undergraduate requirements in physiology, biology, chemistry, and organic chemistry. This usually means earning a BS.
  • Study for and successfully complete the Dental Admissions Test (DAT) (sample at www.ada.org).
  • Complete four years of dental school to earn a DDS degree.
  • Successfully complete NBDE exam and state-specific testing for a dental license.
  • Start your career as an associate in an established practice or join a partnership.

What options are available for exposure to clinical practice before beginning my education?

The best way to determine if you’d want to pursue a dental degree and a career in dentistry is by requesting a job shadow with a dentist or dental specialist. Many practicing dentists confirmed their interest in dentistry by spending a day in a dentist’s office to get firsthand exposure

Are Dental Residency Programs available?

Those who want more exposure to clinical practice before beginning their career may apply for a Dental Residency Program. Residency programs provide continued education through performing dentistry in a clinical setting with accomplished dentists. There are two recognized programs offered by a number of different institutions nationwide: General Practice Residency (GPR) and Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD). The former is a one year program while the later lasts two years. During residency participants may see as many as 15 patients a day. This intensive exposure is designed to help participants hone their skills and the speed in which they perform procedures. During residency participants are given a stipend of about $45,000 yearly to cover housing and living expenses.

What is the typical career path for a dentist after earning a degree?

A recent dental school graduate will usually begin his career by becoming an associate in the office of a dentist or dental partnership with an established practice. This is because of the high start-up costs of an independent practice and the lack of independent clinical experience. These arrangements are usually contractual and require the dentist to commit to a certain number of years working for the practice as an associate. These contracts usually involve a non-compete clause that prevent the associate dentist from practicing independently for several years. After a few years associates usually move on to become a partner in the clinic they had been working in. This involves investing financially in the business and taking a share of the total profit rather than receiving a salary. The more intrepid and self-reliant dentist will go on to establish or acquire an independent practice of his own.


Dentist Schools