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Dentistry is not just about filling cavities. While many patients do treat patients others perform research, make policy, perform forensic investigations and teach dentistry. There are also several specialty fields within the profession. While the education can be tough, the pay off can be great. Many dentists, especially those with good business sense, set their own hours and earn a great living. Demand for dentists is greatest in rural areas outside big cities, but a dentist with a good reputation will always have clients no matter where they are located. Do you enjoy working with your hands? Does science and health interest you? You might enjoy dentistry.
Dental Training begins with a four year undergraduate degree. Although some dental schools will accept students who have completed certain course requirements without completing a college degree this is very rare. Although you can major in anything you want, you must complete certain courses in order to attend dental school. These courses typically include a year of biology with lab, a year of chemistry with lab, a year of organic chemistry with lab and a year of physics with lab. Some schools will also require a year of english and math.
After completing their undergraduate education future dentists then head to a school of dentistry. Often these are located alongside medical schools and you may share some of your classes with medical students. Dental schools have either a four year or a three year condensed curriculum. It is best to check the of schedule each school you apply to. If you are only interested in three year schools it would not make sense for you to apply to four year programs.
Once a dentist has graduated from dental school and passed the national and state licensing exams they can either proceed to open their practice or to enter a residency in a specialized field of dentistry.
When applying to dental school most schools will require a copy of your Dental Admissions Test (DAT). The DAT is broken into four sections 90 minutes on natural sciences (chemistry, organic chemistry, biology), 60 minutes of perceptual ability, 60 minutes of reading comprehension, and 45 minutes of quantitative reasoning. This score is very important as it allows comparison of students from different undergraduate institutions.
Once in dental school students must take the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE). There are two components to the exam. The first part consists of 400 multiple choice type questions on the basic sciences. The second part is a two day exam consisting of 500 multiple choice questions dealing with more clinical topics.
In addition in order to practice you must pass you state licensing exams. Each state has its own requirements and so you must check with the state you plan to practice in about exam procedures. If you are attending dental school in a state other than the one in which you want to practice you should also make sure you supplement your dental education accordingly.
The first step is filling out the ADEA Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS). This central application includes an essay and information on your extracurricular activities. They also collect Letters of Recommendation that will be sent to each individual school. After schools review your application they will request additional information. These requests will be posted to your AADSAS page under the supplemental tab. Follow the instructions given and return this information as quickly as possible.
Once your supplemental information has been received schools will decide if they would like to invite you for an interview. These interviews typically include a tour of the school and interviews by two faculty members and/or a student. Remain calm and remember that just because you feel an interview is going badly does not mean your interviewer feels the same way. It is very difficult to judge how well an interview went. Do your best and remain hopeful.
Once you have interviewed, your job is to wait. The school will inform you of their decision whenever they make it. If you are placed on a waiting list for a school you are interested in send them updates when you have them and continue to express interest in their program. Do not go overboard. Harassing the admissions office is not the way to gain admittance.
Upon graduation dentists have the option of applying for training in a specialty field. These dentists include:
AADSAS The primary dental school application.
US Dental Schools A list of all US dental schools and their websites.
PreDents.com stores and tabulates a wealth of information about dental school applicants and displays it an easy to read format to elicit the most use.
Mike's Guide to Dentistry The Website of a current army dentist with popular advice on the dental field and admissions.
Forensic Dentistry An interesting website with dental anatomy.