Based on the 2021 U.S. News & World Report rankings, being a dentist placed in the top 10 career options. Several of its specializations also got into the top 35, particularly the oral surgeon, prosthodontist, and orthodontist. This seems to be a top career option because of the opportunity to help and treat patients and make a difference in their lives. Aside from this, dentists can readily start their own practice and be their own bosses. As a bonus, dentists also earn high salaries from about $150,000 to 210,000. Dental specialists like oral and maxillofacial surgeons and orthodontists earn the highest, though other factors such as location and experience could affect how much you can earn in your practice. There are several career options in the field of dentistry and this includes private practice, academics, public health, research, global healthcare, and hospital dentistry.

As the population ages, the demand for dentists becomes higher. This is because older people will need more maintenance and dental care. It takes about 8 years of education before becoming a dentist in the United States. One should first have either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD), which could be attained in one of the United States-accredited dental schools. The school should be recognized by the Commission on Dental Accreditation and American Dental Association (ADA). It could be tough to get into the top dental schools, considering the high competition among student applicants.

Next to Dental school is the need to pass or complete licensure exams of the state, which are usually divided into written and clinical components. The clinical component usually involves working with an actual patient. These 2 parts are administered by the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations or NBDE. Students would have to decide as well whether they want to specialize or continue as general dentists. The specializations recognized by the ADA are Dental Anesthesiology, Dental Public Health, Endodontics, Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Periodontics, Prosthodontics, Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, and Pediatric Dentistry. Specializing in one of these fields would require an additional 2 years of study.

To delve more into your journey to become a dentist in the United States, here are the 5 steps to guide you:

Steps to Become a Dentist in the United States

1. Complete Dental School Prerequisites

Before applying for Dental School, students should take as many science and pre-dental classes in college and excel in these subjects as this would be a great help in preparing them for succeeding courses. This includes at least 8 hours of lecture and laboratory classes in Biology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Physics. Completing a dental school prerequisite is one of the necessary steps to become a dentist in the US. With that said, it would be best to choose an undergraduate course related to health or the sciences. Though not required, it would also be a good idea to join the American Student Dental Association, which provides advice and publications for students aspiring to become dentists. This will also enable you to meet dental professionals and mentors in the field, who could be of help to gain knowledge, tips, and resources.

2. Take and pass the Dental Admission Test

Next on the list for becoming a dentist in the US is to complete and pass the DAT or Dental Admission Test, which is an entrance examination for dental school applicants. It consists of multiple-choice questions in these four sections: Survey of the Natural Sciences, Perceptual Ability, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning. Students are asked to take the DAT in the spring of their junior year of undergraduate study or the summer between their junior and senior years. Applications should be submitted 60-90 days before the target date of the exam.

3. Prepare and apply to Dental Schools

After passing the DAT, the next step for you to become a dentist in the US is to now choose your preferred dental schools and list down the requirements. You can apply to as many as you can, as these give you higher chances of getting into one. There are about 65 dental schools in the United States and one of which is the University of Michigan. This school has several affiliated clinics which could give students opportunities for clinical practice and experiences. Another school to consider is the University of North Carolina, which offers clinical experience in 50 rotation sites in North Carolina. Harvard University is also one of the top dentistry schools in the United States. Aside from being an Ivy League school, it has its very own Harvard Dental Center which accommodates about 25,000 patients annually. Students could get their hands-on experiences at their very own school.

4. Get involved in the Dentistry Community

Once you’ve gotten into your desired dental school, the next step to becoming a dentist in the US includes the dentistry community. You should maximize your learning opportunities and experiences. Aside from doing well at lectures and exams, you should get involved and explore engagement opportunities like volunteering at health clinics and student organizations. This could help you gain valuable experience and give you an edge over other students. It would also give you a better understanding of the setting and actual work of a dentist. Other than that, it’s also a good way to meet new people and expand your network in the field.

5. Take the Licensure Exam

All dental students need to complete and pass the licensure exam before working as a full-fledged dentist. After completing your DMD or DDS degrees, you should pass both Part 1 and 2 of the National Board Dental Examination or NBDE. The majority of students take Part 1 of the exam during the last 2 years of their Dental School and get support or help from their programs. On the other hand, part 2 of the licensure exam is the clinical examination, which is taken after completing dental school and involves examining an actual patient. Licensure requirements, however, could vary per state so it would be best to contact and check with your state dental board.

Getting these steps covered to be a dentist would be a long and challenging journey, but one that could surely provide you with a meaningful career!


I hope that this article on How to Become a Dentist in the United States was helpful. To know more information on studying abroad, check out the Available Programs for International Students.

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