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How Long Does IT Take to Be a Dentist?

Dentists are licensed healthcare professionals who work on patients' teeth. In order to prepare for this career, aspiring dentists must complete an undergraduate and doctoral degree program. Combined, these programs typically take eight years complete; however, students may choose to speed up the process through accelerated programs or extend their education with postgraduate programs.

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Educational Requirements for Dentists

Bachelor's Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most students who enter dental schools complete 4-year bachelor's degree programs beforehand (www.bls.gov). Some applicants complete 2-3 years of college prior to applying to dental school and complete their bachelor's degree there. Undergraduate students may benefit from taking science courses, such as biology and health, which are often required for admission into dental school. Some colleges and universities offer pre-dental programs. A pre-dental program doesn't lead to the awarding of a degree, but it helps students who've chosen a major plan their bachelor's degree curricula to meet admission requirements to dental school.

Dental Degree

Admission into dental school is highly competitive. Along with undergraduate performance, students are evaluated for their Dental Admissions Test (DAT) scores. They may choose to take this test before graduating college. After gaining admission into dental school, students go on to complete four years of full-time study to earn the Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Medicine. Students typically spend the first two years learning general and dental science in classroom and laboratory settings. They may take courses like oral anatomy, histology and pathology. In the final years, dental students participate in clinical practicums, gaining supervised, hands-on experience in dental clinics.

Accelerated Dental Programs

Some schools offer accelerated programs in which students may earn a bachelor's degree and complete dental school in seven years or less. In the first few years of study, students take on a heavy course load in pre-dental topics, such as the natural and physical sciences. To move on to the dental education component, students must meet program-specified grade point averages and DAT scores. In the final years, students take advanced courses in dentistry to earn dental degrees.

Licensure Requirements for Dentists

Dental school graduates must obtain licensure from their state board of dentistry to practice in the profession. To attain licensure, candidates must pass both a written and practical exam. The state or a regional agency typically administers the practical exam; however, the American Dental Association's Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations administers the written component, the National Board Dental Examinations.

Postdoctoral Training for Dentists

Dentists may choose to specialize in a particular field of dentistry, such as orthodontics or pediatric dentistry. To become a specialist, dentists must complete 2-4 years of postdoctoral education, and they might be required to complete a 2-year residency program in their field of choice. These professionals also need to earn a specialty license, which could entail passing a state-administered specialty exam.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed an annual median salary of $145,240 for dentists. In addition, the BLS predicted employment growth of 21%, from 2010-2020.

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