Say Ahh! Here's Your Guide on How to Become a Successful Dentist

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Jan 1, 2019

Jan 1, 2019 • by Rebecca Smith

According to the ADA (American Dental Association), there were 198,517 dentists using their dental degree in some way in 2017. That's 60 dentists per 100,000 people. 

And everyone needs a dentist. There are also a variety of specialties someone can focus on if they're not sure being a general dentist is the right choice. 

If you're thinking of learning how to become a dentist, you've come to the right place. We want you to know exactly what it takes and how much it costs before you decide on becoming a dentist. 

Keep reading to learn everything you've always wanted to know about how to be a dentist. 

Get Your College Degree Before You Learn How to Become a Dentist

Obviously, you'll need to attend a school for dentists. Before you can apply to dental school, you need at least a bachelor's degree. 

However, some dental schools will admit a student who only has 2-3 years of undergraduate schooling. The school will them allow you to continue earning your bachelor's degree as part of the dental program. 

How to Prepare for your Dentist Education

While there are no specific courses you need to take as an undergraduate, it's extremely helpful to take courses in physics, chemistry, and biology to help you prepare for dental school. 

You can also prepare for dental school by joining a mentoring program. The ASDA (American Student Dental Association) offers programs which support and guides aspiring students through the admission process. 

You can also participate in the Summer Health Professions Education Program. This program provides students who have already completed their first two years of college a 6-week dental school prep program. 

Extra Ways to Prepare for Becoming a Dentist

While education is a great way to learn about becoming a dentist, it's not the only way you can prepare. Dentists need to learn how to perform their work, which is done on an extremely small scale. 

You'll need amazing eye-hand coordination in order to work on your patient's teeth safely. Developing manual dexterity prior to entering dental school is helpful. 

Here are a few activities to help you prepare:

  • Drawing
  • Crocheting/knitting
  • Painting
  • Sewing/needlepoint
  • Playing a musical instrument (piano and violin are best for developing good eye-hand coordination)
  • Tying fishing knots

These are also great hobbies to help you manage your stress levels during your schooling. 

Applying to Dental School

In order to apply to dental school, you'll need to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). This exam assesses your current scientific knowledge and how well prepared you are to attend dental school. 

Dental schools will take a close look at your DAT scores along with your GPA. You'll also need to schedule an interview and provide them with letters of recommendation. 

Applying to dental school is similar to applying to college. They take a close look at everything you've accomplished so far. That includes any work history, especially if it's closely related to the dental profession. 

Attending Dental School

How long is dental school? Typically, it lasts for four years and upon graduation, you'll receive either a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or a DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine) degree. 

Look for a school where programs are accredited by the ADA Commissions on Dental Accreditation. Check to see if your state requires a degree from an approved program to get your state license. 

Your first two years at dental school focuses on classroom and laboratory studies in dental science and health. Most schools offer such courses as periodontics, dental anesthesia, orthodontics, oral pathology, radiology, and pharmacology. 

The last two years of your dentistry training focuses on clinical practice. Under the close supervision of dental instructors, you'll diagnose and treat patients. 

Graduate and Get Your License

Anyone becoming a dentist must be licensed by the state they intend to practice in. Each state has their own set of requirements. 

However, every state requires aspiring dentists to pass the National Board Dental Exam

This is a written exam that is separated into two parts. It will cover ethics, clinical procedures, and test your knowledge of dental sciences. 

You must also pass a practical exam that's either administered or at least approved by your state licensing board. Check with your state to see if there are other prerequisites you need. 

Some states require you to be certified in CPR and/or first aid. You may also need to go through an interview and/or a background check. 

Decide if You Want to Choose a Specialty

While many dentists choose to become a general dentist, there are other options. You can choose to specialize in the field of dentistry. 

Such specializations include:

  • Endodontics
  • Oral and maxillofacial radiology
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery
  • Oral pathology
  • Orthodontics
  • Pediatric dentistry
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics
  • Public health dentistry

If you choose to specialize, you may be required to do a residency that lasts for an additional two years or so before you earn a specialty state license. However, many of these specialties pay extremely well.

Learn more about the benefits of orthodontia at any age here. 

The Cost of Dental School

Higher education isn't inexpensive anymore. In the 1960s, someone on a teachers salary could easily afford to send someone to dental school without incurring debt. 

However, the high cost of tuition shouldn't turn people away. The income dentists earn is significant. 

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't fully consider the costs of attending a four-year college followed by an additional four years of dental school. But there is help for those who need it. 

If you choose to attend an in-state dental school, assume you'll pay around $267,000 for all four years. Out-of-state students often spend around $369,500. 

How Much You Can Expect to Earn as a Dentist

Luckily, the average salary of dentists, once they begin to practice, is $173,860. That's around $83.59 per hour.

However, don't forget it also costs money to start up your own practice. If you choose to buy a practice, that's also an up-front cost. 

Much of your salary depends on where you choose to practice, what field of dentistry you practice, and whether or not you join a practice or start your own. 

How to Get Help Paying for Dental School

It's worth noting that most dental graduates find they can successfully manage their loan repayments by identifying and using the myriad options they have available to them. 

There are options available from the federal government. You may also qualify for a loan repayment program that reduces your student loan debt amount in exchange for providing service to designated populations, performing research, or pursuing academic dentistry. 

There are also scholarships available. Some are merit-based while others are need-based. 

If you do take out a loan, you need to make sure you fully understand the terms of the loan. Create a budget and stick to it to ensure you have plenty of money for books, room and board, and food. 

Skills You Need to Be a Good Dentist

Not everyone makes a good dentist. Your dentist training will teach you a lot, but there are other skills you need to develop in order to be successful.

Become a Leader

Dentists need to be leaders. While you're helping people achieve beautiful smiles, you're also running a business.

That means hiring and overseeing your entire staff. You also have to be a leader in front of your patients so they trust they are in capable hands. 

Learn How to Solve Problems 

Your primary goal as a dentist is to identify the problem(s) affecting your patient. Then you need to formulate an effective treatment plan. 

Not everyone's body responds in the same way. Some people have physical and/or mental issues that sometimes interfere with the regular treatment plan.

It's up to you to find the solution that best fits their needs. 

Be Compassionate

Never forget that it's scary for a lot of people to have someone rooting around in their mouth. Many people experience fear and anxiety at the dentist. 

Learning to be a compassionate person is a required skill for this type of work. You also need to learn how to help people feel calm and to trust you before, during, and after procedures.   

Manage Your Time 

The more procedures you can perform in one day, the more money you earn. However, you must learn how to balance your time while performing procedures safely and according to set protocols.  

How to Get a Job After Graduation 

The great news is that the field of dentistry is growing. In fact, here's what the Bureau of Labor Statistics has to say about dentistry:

"Overall employment of dentists is projected to grow 19 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. The demand for dental services will increase as the population ages and as research continues to link oral health to overall health."

To start your search, use the Academy of General Dentistry and the ADA Career Center as sources to find work. You should also start networking as soon as possible. 

Talk to your teachers, local dentists, the local dental association, and even dental supply reps to see if they know of any opportunities. Prepare in advance for your interview

Have your CV ready and constantly updated to pass out whenever you hear of an opportunity. Use the internet to search for job openings. 

Find a Job Through Us

You've worked hard to learn how to become a dentist. Now, it's time to reap the benefits. 

And we can help. Our job search has tons of available openings nationwide. And it's easy to find exactly what you're looking for on our site. 

To help you find the latest job openings in your area of expertise, all you need to do is set up a job alert. Click here to get started.