Dentistry is one of the most aspiring branches of the medical profession, so one of the crucial questions is how long is dental school. Like most professionals, those who want to become dentists should be prepared for lifelong learning and commitment.

As expected, dental school is a crucial first step. It is a place you can gain the knowledge and practical experience necessary to start your practice. Let’s discuss basic information on length, the educational requirements, and factors influencing dental training quality.

How Long Is Dental School?

Dental school education aims to provide complete training in clinical skills, dental sciences, and patient management. The length of basic dental education varies, depending on the country.

The total dental education duration is approximately 7 to 8 years in the US. However, you can choose a shorter dentistry program combining the undergraduate degree and practical training. That way, you can complete the education within six years and work as a dentist without an additional specialization.

Postgraduate Training and Specialization

As expected, getting a degree doesn’t mean an end of dental education possibilities. Even though most students start working as dentists after graduating, the best ones can go further.

You can decide to pursue postgraduate training and specialization in a specific area if you are one of them. Programs provide advanced education and clinical experience to enhance skills and knowledge in twelve professional areas, including:

  • Dental public health
  • Oral medicine
  • Pediatric dentistry
  • Radiology (oral and maxillofacial)
  • Surgery (oral and maxillofacial)
  • Pathology (oral and maxillofacial)
  • Orthodontics
  • Endodontics
  • Prosthodontics
  • Periodontists
  • Dental anesthesiology
  • Orofacial pain

Specialization programs typically last two to six years, depending on the chosen field and school. During this period, dental training mainly focuses on advanced techniques, research, and treating complex cases within a desired area.

Nowadays, many dental school grads think about additional training and mastering cutting-edge dental technology, like laser dentistry. You can find specialized dentists in private practice, academic institutions, military, and international health care.

There is also a third direction to base the foundations of your future career. If you want to pursue advanced degrees, like a Master’s or Ph.D., you need to count on a significantly extended time of education.

Dental School and State Requirements

Be aware that it is necessary to meet a few requests to get a place in dental school. They typically include at least a bachelor’s degree with a strong emphasis on scientific subjects.

Even though the requirements vary from school to school, you need to have excellent grades in a few main subjects, like:

  • Biology
  • Inorganic and organic chemistry
  • Physics or math
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Besides, you should prepare and take the Dental Admission Test. It is a practical way of having your knowledge and abilities assessed before getting into dental school.

The application process for dental schools is always highly competitive because of the limited seats available. For instance, only 55.3% of applicants enrolled in one of the 66 accredited American dental schools in 2018.

Standard dental education in the US typically begins with a four-year undergraduate degree. Then, additional four years in a dental program is often necessary, with some exceptions.

One of the specific exceptions is the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA, established in 1851. Their dental program lasts only three years, but their continuous training is equivalent to four years of education in other schools.

The first two years (classroom learning)

You can expect to spend most of the time in the classroom during the initial two years of dental school. Intensive learning includes attending lectures, gaining theoretical knowledge in dental sciences, and participating in group discussions.

It is the time for theoretical learning in the classroom about the human body’s structure and function, specific details related to the oral cavity, and common diseases.

Courses in most dental schools include studying primary biological sciences and cover subjects such as:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Biochemistry
  • Dental-oriented sciences
  • Oral anatomy, histology, and pathology

You will also gain knowledge of modern procedures and the newest trends in the dental field.

The second two years (clinical training)

The following two years include extensive clinical training in teaching clinics. Students get an opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge they got in the classroom in practice under supervision. The goal is to learn to perform dental procedures and gain practical experience in:

  • Diagnose and treat various oral conditions
  • Clean teeth
  • Remove tooth decay and fill cavities
  • Perform dental procedures under the supervision
  • Promote oral health
  • Take X-rays
  • Remove teeth

You will also learn how to create a treatment plan to overcome the most prevalent dental issues. Finally, direct contact with patients lets you understand the needs and concerns people seeking dental care have.

The National Board Dental examination

You should be prepared for your knowledge checking during these four years of education. Testing is conducted by the Boards administered by the American Dental Association. This agency is responsible for testing graduating dental students’ clinical skills. The exam includes 500 multiple-choice questions and is divided into two parts:

  • Part I held after the second dental school year includes 400 questions about basic science
  • Part II is organized in the fourth dental school year and focuses on clinical dental subjects
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Regional board exam

Most states require graduating dentists to pass regional written and clinical board exams. This exam is not required in four states, including:

  • Connecticut
  • California
  • Minnesota
  • Colorado

Instead, future dentists can choose one of the offered possibilities:

  • General Practice Residency, lasting one year
  • Advanced Education in General Dentistry

Since 2007, all graduates from New York need to complete one of these programs, so the NERB Board that was required until then is no longer valid.

Even though several agencies oversee dentistry practice in the US, the ultimate licensure is the responsibility of each state. Remember that only a licensed dentist can legally work in all American states. However, each dentist needs to get a license in the state where planning to work.

The Dental School Benefits

The dental school focuses on developing professionalism and ethical practice and values clinical skills. One of the crucial things to learn during dental education is the responsibilities necessary in a dental career. They include informing, confidentiality, and setting professional boundaries.

You will also receive extensive guidance on dental ethics, practice management, and the importance of lifelong learning. To maintain the appropriate level of education in this specific field, dental schools often organize workshops, conferences, and seminars to teach their students current advancements and trends.

A rough estimation is that about 190,000 practicing dentists work in the country after finishing school. Being a dentist is highly attractive, considering their average income in the US in 2023 is $189,320. The salary range is from $169,660 to $213,160, depending on factors like the following:

  • Education level
  • Experience
  • Certifications
  • Additional skills
  • City and state where you live

Even though this information sounds excellent, be aware that dental school cost is incredibly high. As expected, it is one of the crucial problems for most students, so you should consider it on time.

Unfortunately, the cost of dental education can be a problem for some students, so you should consider this issue on time. Tuition fees, living expenses, and student loans create high debts for future dentists.

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Believe it or not, most newly graduated dentists owe more than $200,000 in student loans after finishing their education. The positive side is that numerous financial aid programs, scholarships, and grants help talented students with a limited budget.

Dental Education Advantages

Dental schools are among the most challenging ones to get into a high level of education, but they also provide numerous opportunities for personal growth and professional development. Studying dentistry has advantages and disadvantages, so you should check all information before making a final decision.

For instance, the possibility of interacting with faculty, mentors, and fellow students fosters a sense of community and establishes precious professional connections. Besides, you will acquire essential skills such as critical thinking, effective problem-solving, and proper communication with patients.

Be aware that the dental degree value allows you to explore more fields and specialize in areas of your interests. As a dentist, you can choose a few careers, such as:

  • Private practice or military dentist
  • Academic dentistry and dental research
  • International healthcare
  • Dental public policy

It is estimated that approximately 80% of all dentists in the US work in general dentistry. Those who want to start their private dental practice need to find the best employees to help them run a business. The best available places for that purpose are:

  • Cloud Dentistry, a marketplace for all dental workers’ profiles
  • Pair Dental, the US-based platform specialized in connecting dental specialists with practice owners
  • ADA Career Centre
  • Dental job listing websites, like Monster, Dental Post, LinkedIn, Indeed, Dental Staffing, and Glassdoor

Summary

A dental school is a place that demands dedication, perseverance, and a passion for oral healthcare. You need to spend four years before getting a degree or study for additional two to six years to finish a specialization.

Additional opportunities include advanced degrees, like a Master’s or Ph.D. No matter what career you choose, your first task is to improve patients’ oral hygiene and help them solve dental problems when they arise.

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