If you envision a future as a dentist, working on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases relating to the teeth, mouth and gums, be prepared to spend at least eight years in schooling before you can hang out your private practice shingle. The first school in the country to train dentists opened in 1840 in Baltimore, Maryland, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, followed some 25 years later by Harvard Dental School. Here's how to become a dentist.
In order to be accepted at a college offering pre-dental courses concentrating in the sciences, it's important to earn consistently high grades in high school in such coursework as chemistry, health, biology and mathematics. You must achieve a bachelor's degree with high science grades in order to apply for continued study at a four-year dental school, approved by the American Dental Association and accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.
Admission to the Dental School of your choice hinges upon high grades in the science category, your overall grade point average, recommendations and your successful passage of the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). The first two of the four years spent in Dental School focuses on lab work and classroom instruction. These are followed by two years of field experience in dental clinics under the supervision of licensed professional dentists.
Graduation from Dental School doesn't guarantee that you can work as a dentist just yet. You must also pass additional written and practical examinations as outlined by your state in order to obtain your dental license.
In addition to general dentistry, there are 9 recognized dental specialties that you can pursue with additional study and training. These include Dental Public Health, Endodontic (root canal), Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology, Oral & Maxillofacial Radiology, Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery (oral and facial diseases) , Orthodontics (teeth straightening), Periodontics (implants), Pediatrics (children) and Prosthodontics (dentures, bridges and implant restoration). Some dentists elect to specialize even further in such areas as veterinary dentistry, dealing with dental care of animals or geriatric dentistry, attending to the needs of older patients and the oral diseases and dental challenges the senior population faces.
Dentists who choose one of the above specialties take an additional two to five years more coursework and field experience, and then must apply for a license in their specialty according to the state in which they choose to practice. A dentist in general practice can expect to earn upwards of $110,000 in annual salary, and as much as $160,000 if they pursue a specialty.