Requirements

There are a few basic requirements most students will need to complete for beginning the application process. Each student will be expected to have completed a bachelor’s degree, including “eight credit hours of physics, biology, general chemistry and organic chemistry,” according to Indeed. Most programs will require applicants to have shadowed a licensed dentist for at least 100 hours. Students should also demonstrate they are well-rounded candidates by having participated in extracurricular activities during their undergraduate program. Students will also need to perform well on the Dental Admission Test (DAT). develop a stand-out application package, and complete an admissions interview. Additionally, joining the Student National Dental Association can help students gain access to resources to help facilitate this process.

Admission process

Having a game plan for approaching the admissions process can make it feel less daunting. For starters, students should take their DAT and receive their scores back. Once the scores are in hand, submit your application to ADEA Associated American Dental Schools Application Service, which all dental students are required to use. This step in the process opens annually in June, but students should check with individual schools to confirm their application deadlines. Applications should be submitted a year in advance of when the student hopes to attend dental school. Each school will request additional information, which the student will need to be prepared to promptly supply. Finally, once application materials are submitted, students will begin participating in interviews to help secure their spot in dental school. Additionally, this is a good time to think about how to 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,” according to Mouth Healthy.

After finishing up the first part of the application process, students will need to wait until they begin hearing back from schools. “Admissions decision processes and timelines vary between dental programs but you may learn of an acceptance as early as December/January,” explains Berkeley. Some schools will begin extending offers around the first of December.

Types of degrees

The school you attend will help shape your future as a dentist, so it’s important to find the one that’s the right fit. U.S. News & World Report explains, “A dentist may have a DDS, or Doctor of Dental Surgery, degree or a DMD, which is a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry or Doctor of Dental Medicine degree,” and these degrees are essentially the same. Most dental programs last a minimum of four years, but some students participate in accelerated programs and graduate in three. There are ten types of recognized dental specialties by the American Dental Association (ADA), so students can choose to pursue specialized practice if they would like. According to the American Dental Association, "As of 2020, about one in five professionally active dentists (21.2%) reported that their practice, research, or administration area is an ADA-recognized specialty.”

The life of a dental student

Dental students can expect rigorous education and long hours while in school. Student Kai Ta Huang described a day in the life by saying, a “typical day in first year includes waking up bright and early with my coffee and breakfast, going to the preclinical lab in the morning for some drills and fills, then having homemade lunch and chatting about random stuff. If we have exams coming, I study while I eat. Then, we attend our afternoon lectures, and try to stay awake by drinking more coffee because of the lunch we just ate. Then, we take a short break after school and head to our second home, the library, for more studying. Finally, we get to go home and do it all again tomorrow.”

By year three, students are beginning to see patients, and are putting their education to use. In fourth year, students are beginning to wind down their time in dental school, preparing for final exams, and job searching. Overall, having excellent time management and study skills are critical for students in all four years of school.

Careers

While this may seem far away for students merely thinking about applying to dental school, understanding what’s at the end of the journey can be helpful. After graduating, students can choose from a variety of areas to practice. For those who don’t want to go into practice, there are also many academic roles as well to help educate future dentists, research, and even working in international healthcare. Dentists tend to have long, well-paid careers, with most dentists making over six figure salaries, and remaining in practice until well past retirement age.

Remember, applying for dental school is a life-changing process that will ultimately help you on your path to success. If becoming a dentist, or working in the field is something you aspire to, don’t hesitate to begin starting the application process. Staying organized, being proactive, and working hard will help make your ambitions a reality.