Dentist Education Requirements and Career Information
Dentists provide oral health services to adults and children. Some dentists choose to study a subspecialty, such as orthodontics. Most dentists obtain an undergraduate degree before completing a 4-year dental program.
Education Requirements for a Dentist
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 85% of dental students obtain a bachelor's degree prior to entering dental school (www.bls.gov). While no specific undergraduate degree is required, students commonly take science courses in biology, anatomy, chemistry and microbiology.
Aspiring dentists enroll in a dental school accredited by the American Dental Association. Dental colleges offer either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). Prospective students must submit Dental Admission Test (DAT) scores with their application.
DDS degree programs cover four years of in-class, pre-clinical and clinical instruction. The first two years are devoted to lab and class instruction. Courses may include oral pathology, dental diagnosis and dental treatment techniques. In the last two years, students typically complete a dental rotation externship, which is usually conducted in dental clinics and allow students to treat patients under supervision.
In addition to general dentistry, dental schools typically offer specialized areas of study, such as oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics or pediatric dentistry.These postgraduate programs generally take an additional 2-6 years to complete, depending on the chose specialty, and may include a residency.
Dentists work with patients to promote dental health. They diagnose and treat oral health issues and inform patients on preventative care and treatment. Most dentists are general practitioners who perform exams, fill cavities and extract teeth; however, some choose a subspecialty of dentistry, such as orthodontics. Dental school graduates may work for established offices or setup their own practice.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The BLS projected a 16% increase in the employment of dentists between 2008 and 2018. This increase was attributed to an increase in the demand for dental services for the aging population, as well as new and increasingly popular trends, such as teeth whitening. The BLS notes that dentists earned a median annual salary of $141,040, as of May 2010, and PayScale.com reports that most general dentists received a total pay between $69,368 and 212,066 per year, as of September 2011.
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