How to Start a Career in Dentistry
There are a variety of reasons why one may want to become a dentist. Perhaps you’re committed to helping people improve their health through the treatment of dental issues. At the same time, you may also be drawn to good job stability and high salaries. Whatever the reason may be, here is the basic course you need to follow to start a career in dentistry.
Go to Dental School
You have to be highly educated in order to become a dentist. In addition to high school and college degrees, you must receive a doctorate from an accredited dental school in order to practice dentistry. This means that, in order to become a dentist, you must invest a significant amount of time and money into your education.
At the high school and college levels, it can be helpful to take advanced math and science classes. Choosing a major such as chemistry or biology can also help familiarize you with many of the subjects you will learn in more detail while in dental school.
In order to be admitted to dental school, you’ll first have to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). Then you’ll begin sending out applications to dental schools until you’re accepted. Upon the completion of a four-year program, you’ll receive either a DDS or DMD.
Obtain a License to Practice Dentistry
While graduating from dental school is quite an achievement, it doesn’t make you a full-fledged dentist. Before you start handing dental handpieces and actually practicing dentistry, you first must earn a few certifications.
First of all, you’ll have to pass the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE), a two-part exam administered by the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE). Many aspiring dentists opt to take the NBDE in their final two years of dental school.
In addition to the NBDE, you’ll also have to earn a license to practice dentistry in the state where you plan on working. Different states have different requirements, although many require you to undergo a clinical examination where you interact with a live patient.
Choose a Specialization
Most of the dentists currently practicing today are general practitioners, which is the kind of dentist you see when you go in for regular check-ups, fillings, veneers, root canals, etc.
However, some dentists choose to specialize in a specific niche. This means they focus on one particular area related to dental health and develop a unique expertise in this regard. If a general practitioner is unable to diagnose or treat an issue, they will refer their patient to a specialist for treatment.
As of right now, the National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards recognizes 12 distinct dental specialties:
- Dental anesthesiology
- Dental public health
- Oral and maxillofacial pathology
- Oral medicine
- Orofacial pain
- Oral and maxillofacial radiology
- Oral and maxillofacial surgery
- Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics
- Pediatric dentistry
Choosing a specialty can potentially give you a competitive edge in your career, since there are far less specialists than there are general practitioners.
Join a Dental Practice
The final step in becoming a dentist is joining a dental practice. Many dentists either open up their own practices or form partnerships with other dentists. Once you’ve opened up a dental practice, you’ll just need to build a customer base—then you’ll officially be in business as a practicing dentist!
Keep in mind that opening a private practice isn’t the only option for dentists. You may also focus on public health, international health, research, or hospital dentistry. You can also turn to academic dentistry, which gives you the opportunity to conduct research, see patients, and teach other aspiring dentists.
It can take a lot of time and money to build a career in dentistry. But, in the end, you will likely see worthwhile returns. An established dentist typically has great job security, earns a high salary, and gets to help people on a daily basis.