Figuring out what to major in to become a Dentist depends on prior education and the area of dentistry where you want to work. Want to know how to become a dentist?
A dentist is a medical professional with a doctorate level education who specializes in treating the teeth and gums of their patients.
What Does a Dentist Do?
Some of the daily tasks of a dental health professional include taking care of dental care for individuals, administrative functions for running the practice, and staffing.
Patient care typically involves maintenance and preventative care for oral health, treating specific problems such as tooth decay, filling cavities, and performing root canals. There are additional specialized types of various dentists who focus on certain kinds of care, such as pediatric dentistry (treating children) or periodontists (gum care).
Generally, a dentist hires a staff that includes receptionists, dental assistants, dental lab technicians, and dental hygienists. They assist with scheduling, patient communications, and providing primary dental care such as fluoride treatments, x-rays, and teeth cleanings.
Many dentists in practice for themselves oversee daily administrative tasks. These daily dental practice office tasks might include bookkeeping, making schedules, or purchasing equipment and supplies.
What are the Steps to Becoming a Dentist?
How long does it take to become a dentist? To become a dentist includes the fundamental educational requirement of at least eight years beyond high school graduation. Upon dental school graduation, the future dentist obtains a license and can start a general practice. Or they can choose to further their education with an additional two to six years of more education to specialize in one particular area of dentistry.
- 4 years of undergraduate education
- take and pass the Dental Admissions Test, or DAT
- 4 years of attending dental school
- pass practical and written exams from the National Board of Dental Examinations
- apply for a dental license in your state
- specialization requires 2 to 6 additional years of education
What are Popular Majors for Dental School?
What majors are best for dentistry? Anyone interested in establishing a career in dentistry must first complete a bachelor’s degree, a four-year undergraduate degree program. Typically, the student pursues a Bachelor of Science (BS) and follows either a pre-medical or pre-dental track and major in a science like biology or organic chemistry. According to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), most dental students major in biology and chemistry.
Students in a biology major take foundation classes in biology, chemistry, and also human anatomy and physiology. This major is one of the best for pre-dental students because it fulfills the rigorous science requirements.
Students majoring in Chemistry take classes in organic chemistry, nuclear chemistry, inorganic chemistry, physical chemistry, chemical biology, and analytical chemistry. It is a popular undergraduate degree for pre-med and pre-dentistry students.
3. BS in Biochemistry
4. Molecular Biology
Molecular biology helps dentists better understand the diseases and health conditions they treat. It centers around understanding the interactions between different cell systems.
5. Bachelor of Science in Physics
6. Biomedical Engineering
This branch of engineering studies the design of devices, processes, and chemical substances used in the healthcare field. Future dental students majoring in biomedical engineering take courses in general chemistry, physics, and also study the electronics of medical devices.
7. Biomedical Sciences
A Biomedical Science major combines biology and medicine. It studies the health of both animals and humans. Students in this major take classes in biochemical and physiological functions, epidemiology, anatomical and histological structures, and pharmacology.
8. BS in Mathematics
9. Bachelor of Science Psychology
Psychology programs at some colleges are quantitative, so students develop their scientific writing and research. If you choose a Psychology degree, look for a BS instead of a BA. The BS will likely include most of the core science classes you need.
10. BS or BA in Pre-Dentistry
What Prerequisite Courses Do You Need for Dental School?
The above majors are popular because most have the prerequisite classes most dental schools require for admissions. While programs may differ, most want dental students to complete specific science course sequences. So regardless of your major, you should check the prerequisites to ensure you take the right classes as an undergrad. The following classes are recommended by the ADEA website.
- Biology with lab – 8 hours, 2 semesters or 3 quarters
- General Chemistry with lab – 8 hours, 2 semesters or 3 quarters
- Organic Chemistry with lab – 8 hours, 2 semesters or 3 quarters
- Physics with lab – 8 hours, 2 semesters or 3 quarters
- English – 8 hours, 2 semesters or 3 quarters
What are Dental School Degrees?
A dental degree from a professional accredited dental school program is a four-year program. There are two different degrees with different titles. However, they are very similar.
- Doctorate of Dental Medicine (DDM), also called a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry
- Doctorate of Dental Surgery (DDS)
Most dentists work in general practice for a while before choosing to specialize in one of the nine key areas of dentistry as recognized by the American Dental Association. A dental specialty requires many years of experience and education but also dramatically increases salary potential.
Types of Dental Specialists
The American Dental Association (ADA) recognizes 12 dental specialties.
- Dental Anesthesiology
- Dental Public Health
- Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
- Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
- Pediatric Dentistry
- Oral medicine
- Orofacial Pain
- Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
What Will I Do in Dental School?
Dental school admission will require previous biology, physics, chemistry, and organic chemistry coursework.
The initial year in a dentistry program primarily focuses on specific sciences essential to the field, including biomaterials, oral biochemistry and anatomy, fundamentals, and histology of restorative dentistry.
In the second year, the student is introduced to the different specialties, while the third and fourth years primarily focus on intensive clinical study.
Dental school teaches students how to operate equipment like x-ray machines and use the proper tools. Some tools students use in dental school are scalpels, brushes, drills, forceps, probes, and mirrors.
What Kinds of Dentists are There?
Six training programs will require another 2 – 3 years for certification. For instance, a dental public health specialist works to prevent diseases in the local community and encourages good dental health. At the same time, endodontists treat dental diseases inside the teeth and perform root canals to save the infected teeth.
On the other hand, oral radiologists diagnose and manage specific conditions and diseases by interpreting radiology images. A pediatric dentist addresses the unique dental problems of babies, children, and also teenagers. Prosthodontists use crowns to cover repaired teeth and use bridges, implants, and dentures to replace missing teeth. At the same time, periodontists specialize in treating gum disease and its harmful effects on the adjoining bone structure.
More Training and Specialties
For three other specialties, additional training is required, including four to six years of further education beyond just the basic dental school requirements.
Oral and maxillofacial dental surgeons operate on the mouth, neck, and head in addition to placing implants and removing wisdom teeth. They also provide consultation services for general dentists and other doctors regarding certain oral conditions and diseases that affect the facial structure and perform diagnostic tests and biopsies.
Dentofacial orthopedists and orthodontists employ braces and other helpful devices to bring the teeth and jaws back into proper alignment.
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What Qualities and Skills Do You Need to Be a Dentist?
Other essential requirements to become a dentist include a strong affinity for science and the qualities and skills below.
Dentists must have exceptional communication and people skills to communicate effectively with patients and staff.
People who desire a dental career must handle several years of intense coursework. Dentists also need solid diagnostic abilities to evaluate symptoms and choose the appropriate treatment.
Dentists need a clear sense of color, shape, and good spatial judgment. They perform highly-detailed complex work. Dentists must pay attention to teeth’ shape and color and the space between them. For example, they may need to closely match a false tooth with a patient’s other teeth.
Dexterity and PATIENCE
Dentists need outstanding manual dexterity skills. They work with tools in small spaces and may work for long periods to complete a procedure. So patience is essential for procedures as well as dealing with people. Some dental patients require special attention like children and those who fear dental work.
Leadership skills and ORGANIZATIONAL SKILLS
Dental offices are both medical settings and businesses. So, dentists need the skills to manage staff and the business.
How Much Do Dentists Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that dentists earn an average annual salary of $163,220. The range is between $63,880 and $208,000 per year. In addition, salaries vary based on specialization, geographic location, and experience or the number of years in practice.
Below are the top paying dental specialties reported by the BLS.
|Dental Specialization||Median Annual Wages|
|Oral and maxillofacial surgeons||$208,000 +|
|Dentists, all other specialists||$175,680|
|General Dentist offices||$160,370|
Job Outlook for Dentists
Job prospects for dentists look favorable for the next several years. The BLS reports an 8% job growth for this occupation. But you see higher growth for dentists willing to work in underserved areas or dental public health.
These are the primary requirements for anyone considering a career in the dental field and the overall facts on how to become a dentist.