Dentistry Major and Undergraduate Degree Program Information

Discover information about undergraduate degree programs for dentistry majors. This article covers educational prerequisites, mandatory coursework and the employment outlook.

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Essential Information

Students pursuing careers as dentists are encouraged to enroll in pre-dental programs at the undergraduate level; however, bachelor's degrees are not awarded in the field of pre-dentistry. While students participating in pre-dentistry programs may earn a bachelor's degree in any field, they often major in a science, such as biology or chemistry. Pre-dental programs typically include two years of pre-dental coursework which is required for admittance to many dental schools.

A Bachelor of Science degree program with a concentration in pre-dentistry can provide a solid academic background for dental school. A science major can also prepare students for the Dental Admission Test (DAT), which is required for entrance to all dental schools. Regardless of a student's major, undergrads enrolled in pre-dental programs are usually required to take a significant number of dental school prerequisite courses in science and math.

Additionally, pre-dentistry students are often assigned to academic advisors who assist with the dental school application process. Some undergraduate programs are designed so that students can be admitted to dental school after three years of undergraduate coursework. A student who is admitted on an early-entry basis may complete his or her bachelor's degree while enrolled in dental school.

Educational Prerequisites

College admission requirements typically include submission of high school transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. Pre-dentistry programs generally do not have additional educational requirements; however, high school students interested in a career in dentistry are encouraged to take upper-level high school courses in biology, chemistry, physics and math in preparation for college coursework in those subjects.

Program Coursework

Pre-dental students are encouraged to study biochemistry, physical chemistry, anatomy and physiology. Before taking the DAT students must often complete the following courses:

  • Introductory biology
  • Introductory chemistry
  • Organic chemistry
  • Organic chemistry lab
  • English composition
  • College physics
  • Calculus

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Most dentists are general practitioners who are self-employed. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (www.bls.gov) predicted 21% job growth for dentists in general practice for the 2010-2020 period. Job growth is expected to be fueled by the demand for increasingly complex dental services to an aging population. The BLS reported 2012 median annual wages of $145,240 for general dentists.

Continuing Education Information

As of 2008, the BLS reported that there were 57 dental schools in the U.S. that were accredited by the American Dental Association (www.ada.org). Pre-dental students typically apply to dental school the year before they wish to enroll. Dental school generally takes four years to complete and students graduate with a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree.

Postdoctoral programs in dentistry are also available for dentists who want to specialize or pursue teaching or research careers. There are nine specialties recognized by the ADA, including pediatric dentistry, orthodontics and oral surgery. All states require that dental school graduates pass the National Board Dental Examinations and become licensed before being allowed to practice. Some states also require licensing in specialty areas.

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