Becoming a dentist, as with any profession requiring an advanced degree, is a multistep process. Within this process are explicit requirements and implicit expectations, a fact which may be unknown to individuals newly familiarizing themselves with the career of dentistry.
In other words, explicit requirements are the bare minimum requirements necessary in order to enter dental school and become a dentist, while implicit expectations are the additional steps or experiences available for students to take advantage of. These additional steps or experiences are not explicitly required, meaning that without them an individual is still technically eligible to become a dentist; however, they are largely expected to be present on applicants’ resumes, particularly by high-ranking dental schools.
Starting with the basics, let’s take a look at the bare minimum requirements.
First and foremost, a high school diploma or GED certificate is required, primarily because proof of high school academic proficiency is necessary for undergraduate attendance.
Note: Good grades in high school are beneficial; however, if you struggled during this period of time, don’t count yourself out. Universities do not expect flawless academic performance across the board. Demonstrating improvement and commitment to excellence is just as valuable, if not more so. So, don’t feel bad if you weren’t a straight A student. Don’t feel bad if you don’t get into your dream college. Start with where you are, and work up from there.
Attending college is the second requirement. There is no explicit “pre-dental school” major, same as there is no explicit “pre-medical school” major. However, concentrations that most closely align themselves with future dental school attendance include:
If you’re unsure of which major to select, be sure to meet with an academic counselor at your university for guidance.
Next, you must take and successfully pass the DAT, or Dental Admission Test. This is a major exam that will likely require a significant period of study, as DAT scores are assessed by dental schools during the admissions process.
After the DAT, it’s time to apply to dental school. The process can be a bit laborious and tiresome, although the ADEA Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (ADEA AADSAS®) exists to streamline the process. The ADEA AADSAS is an application service utilized by all U.S. dental schools and allows students to essentially create one application to send to multiple schools rather than creating a new application for each school.
Time for dental school! There are two types of dental degrees students can earn:
The type of degree you’ll work towards will depend on the type of dental career you’d like to have.
After dental school, graduates have the option of pursuing a residency in order to further hone their skills, although this is not mandatory. What is mandatory, however, is obtaining licensure. Each state has unique licensing requirements and there is no universal exam. Check the requirements in the state you’d like to practice in and prepare to meet them come exam time. After becoming a licensed DDS or DMD, you are now a full-fledged dentist.
The following implicit expectations primarily apply to the undergraduate experience and greatly help to boost dental school applications.
Many dental schools expect to see a respectable number of volunteering hours. Not all of the hours have to be related to dentistry, although the majority of them being within that general realm is helpful. Exploring service opportunities also allows you to explore your interests and dabble in the field prior to attending dental school.
Potential volunteering opportunities include:
Shadowing a dentist is an invaluable opportunity. Not only does it demonstrate your commitment to dental schools reviewing your future application, but it also allows you to gain field experience which will help you decide what kind of dental career you’d like to eventually have. Don’t be afraid to reach out to local dentists, most are happy to have students shadow them!
Internships are an additional means of demonstrating commitment while also gaining relevant field experience, and they’re particularly great to pursue during the summer when your course load is lighter or you’re on break!