Have you had students express an interest in science? Let them know that a career in dentistry opens up a world of professional opportunities. Here are some resources for you to share to get them started!
Why Choose Dentistry?
There are many reasons to choose dentistry as a career. Dentistry offers an opportunity to make a difference in your patients’ health and well-being. It's a career that allows you a chance to be your own boss and own a dental practice. New exciting scientific breakthroughs in gene therapy and biotechnology offer dentists an opportunity to preserve their patients’ smiles and self-esteem. The Dentistry Careers brochure available provides insight into why dentistry can be a rewarding career choice for you.
Have questions such as:
- What's unique about dentistry?
- What does a dentist do?
- How to prepare for a career in dentistry?
- What career options are available?
Download the Dentistry Fact Sheet (PDF) and find answers.
Dentistry Career Options
Dentistry offers stimulating career options. In addition to private practice, excellent opportunities exist in teaching and research, careers with government agencies or in industry.
- Private Practice: Many dentists work either in solo private practice or in partnerships with other dentists. The majority of private practice dentists own their practices.
- Academic Dentistry: An academic dentistry career combines teaching, research, community service and patient care. Faculty members work in an intellectually stimulating and exciting academic environment. Career opportunities for academic dentists are excellent at this time. Additional information is available at the American Dental Education Association.
- Public Health Dentistry: This career focuses on community settings rather than private practice. Promoting dental health, developing health policy and preventing disease are the major roles of a public health dentist. Numerous opportunities exist in research and teaching within public health dentistry. The U.S. Public Health Service offers dentists an opportunity to provide dental care in unique cultural environments (e.g., an Indian Reservation, Coast Guard base, or Federal Prison).
- Research: Research careers offer opportunities to generate new knowledge and be on the cutting edge of scientific discoveries that ultimately impact patient care. Some of the latest research improving patient care includes lasers in surgery, implants to replace damaged bone and computerized X-rays. Many researchers are faculty at universities while others work in federal facilities, such as the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research, and the National Institutes of Health; or in private industry. A career in research requires an advanced degree or additional training beyond the dental degree.
- International Health Care: Dentists provide services to populations abroad and work for such agencies as the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Many dentists volunteer to bring dentistry to aid people in third world countries.
- Hospital dentistry: Hospital dentists treat patients with medical conditions and disabilities alongside physician colleagues, often in operating rooms and emergency departments. Hospital dentists usually have a strong interest in medicine and collaborative care and have spent a year or more training in a hospital-based setting after dental school.
A Career as a Dental Specialist
The majority of the 164,000 practicing dentists today are general practitioners. The remainder (about 20 percent) are dental specialists who limit their practices to one of the nine ADA recognized dental specialties. The nine dental specialties are: Dental Public Health, Endodontics, Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, Pediatric Dentistry, Periodontics and Prosthodontics. Definitions of the ADA-recognized dental specialties are also available. In addition to four years of dental school, two or more additional years of dental specialty education are required.
Need for Minority Dentists
There is a critical need in many underserved communities where minority and disadvantaged people are not getting the care they need. Only 12 percent of students entering dental school are minorities, while minorities make up 25 percent of the general population. Recent data shows that minority dentists treat a very high number of minority patients.
More underrepresented minority dentists (African American, Hispanic and American Indian) are necessary to eliminate the barriers to oral care. This need is expected to increase as statistics indicate that 58 percent of the population will be comprised of “underrepresented” groups by the year 2050.
Meeting the challenge to eliminate barriers to oral care, dental students and professionals are excited about career opportunities in dentistry. The New Dentistry Brochure highlights the range of dental careers and how diverse dental professionals contribute to providing access to oral care in various communities.
Select a Dental School
There are more than 60 dental schools in the United States accredited by the ADA's Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). Each program is rigorously evaluated for its content and quality. Typically, DDS/DMD programs take four years to complete with an additional years for dental specialties like Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and Pediatric Dentistry.
Admission to dental school is highly competitive, but the application process has never been easier. Most U.S. dental schools accept a single online application through the American Association of Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS).
Dental School Admissions
Students should contact individual dental schools for specific prerequisite information. Required courses generally include:
- 8 hours Biology with lab
- 8 hours Physics
- 8 hours English
- 8 hours General Chemistry with lab
- 8 hours Organic Chemistry with lab
Majoring in science is not a must, but completion of predental science requirements is necessary.
A college undergraduate degree is recommended in preparation for dental school. Most dental students have completed four years of college.
Dental Admissions Test (DAT)
Take the DAT at least a year prior to seeking admission to dental school. This computerized test measures general academic ability, comprehension of scientific information and perceptual ability. Completion of at least one year of college level courses in biology and general and organic chemistry is recommended before taking the DAT.
Admissions committees review credentials such as academic qualifications, the results from the Dental Admissions Test (DAT), grade point average (GPA), letters of recommendation, personal interviews and dental office shadowing experiences. Admission requirements can vary from school to school.
Most dental schools require personal interviews with candidates to assess qualities such as desire to help people, self-confidence, ability to meet challenges, ability to get along with people and capacity to work independently. The personal interview also provides an opportunity to ask about the school.
Apply for admission at least a year in advance of the planned enrollment date. Most dental schools participate in the Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS). For a fee, students can subscribe to this service and complete a single application to apply to multiple dental schools. An online application to the schools participating in AADSAS is available here. The AADSAS toll-free number is 800-353-2237.
Pay for Dental School
Dental school, like other graduate and professional programs, is a significant investment. Over 90 percent of dental students take out loans to finance their education. Consult the ADA’s Financial Resources for Students for detailed information about financial planning and effective debt management.
Be a Dental Team Member
There is a great demand for dental team positions like dental hygienists, dental assistants and dental lab technicians. Hygienists and assistants interact closely with patients to ensure a high level of care, while dental lab technicians work behind-the-scenes, designing the dentures, crowns and braces used by dentists.
All dental team careers are well paid with flexible hours and the educational costs and commitment aren’t as significant as dental school. Learn more about accredited training programs.