Becoming a dentist requires four years of dental school, resulting in a DDS or DMD degree; there is no difference between these degrees in terms of preparation or career possibilities. In addition to general dentistry, the ADA recognizes nine dental specialties, such as oral surgery, periodontics (care of the gums), endodontics (care of the tooth pulp), orthodontics and pediatric dentistry. Many of these specialties require residency programs lasting from two to six years after dental school.
Most dental schools accept a standardized application form called the AADSAS. The AADSAS application includes academic and personal information and a personal statement (essay). After preliminary screening, schools may ask for secondary application materials from students they are interested in. From this pool, they then choose candidates for on-campus interviews.
Minimum course requirements for dental school admission are:
Because requirements vary, applicants should always contact schools they are interested in to determine specifics. Many schools require a year of calculus (MTH 151-152 or 140-141-152), Anatomy and Physiology (BIO 302; students with limited anatomy backgrounds could also take BIO 147), Biochemistry (BCM 365), and/or Microbiology (BIO 340); some require courses in psychology (e.g., PSY 100, 210, 220 or 230). Many recommend Genetics (BIO 260), Cell Biology (BIO 200) and Molecular Biology (BIO 360); even if not required, these additional courses will greatly strengthen your preparation for dental school. Other courses that you may find useful include Statistics (PSY 250), Drugs & Behavior (PSY 280), Death & Dying (REL 310), Professional Ethics (PHL 210) or Bioethics (PHL 215).
Because dentists are more likely than doctors to run their own businesses, dental schools tend to look favorably upon coursework in business, and some pre-dental students choose to complete a business minor.
The average GPA for students accepted to dental schools is about 3.5. Admissions committees look at overall GPA, science GPA and also upward or downward trends.
Dental schools require the DAT exam. There are four sub-tests: natural sciences (biology, general chemistry and organic chemistry), perceptual ability (spatial and three-dimensional thinking; PAT), reading comprehension and quantitative reasoning (math). You will receive a score of 1-30 for each of the three science areas and each of the three other sub-tests. You also get a "total science" score (the three sciences) and an "Academic Average" (AA) score (the three sciences plus reading and math). Individual dental schools publish the average AA, science and PAT scores for their admitted students; these are somewhat variable, but the average AA score nationally is about 19.4.
You should take the DAT in the spring of your junior year, after completing the minimum course requirements above. A strong GPA can sometimes help compensate for a slightly weaker DAT, or vice-versa.
There is no specific major requirement to enter dental school, so long as the prerequisite course requirements are met. A BS in Biology or a BS or BA in Biochemistry is recommended unless you have a strong interest in another area. Dental schools technically only require a minimum of 2-3 years of academic study, but 90% of those accepted completed an undergraduate degree.
Dental schools look for experience in the dental field to demonstrate that you understand how a dentist works and are comfortable around dental patients in a clinical environment. You can get experience by "shadowing:" spending time with one or more dentists as they do their work, or you may be able to get a paid or volunteer job in a dental clinic. Experience with general dentistry is considered most valuable, but it's also desirable to see more than one specialty.
Our Pre-Health Organization (PHO) can be helpful in finding these kinds of opportunities.
Research experience is valued and encouraged by all dental schools. Dentists spend a great deal of time reading medical journals and trying to decide what new treatments will benefit their patients, so a real understanding of how new knowledge is generated is very helpful. See the Biology research page for more information on working with NCC faculty mentors, applying for an off-campus summer research program or finding a research internship.
Service and Leadership
Extracurricular activities that are important to dental admissions committees include significant volunteer service and demonstrated leadership potential. NCC's Ministry and Service programs can connect you with local service opportunities or take you around the country. Volunteer work does not have to be in a dental setting. Leadership activities might include being a student lab assistant or preceptor, serving as an officer in a student organization, tutoring or leadership roles in employment.
Preparing for Interviews
What are the "big isssues" in dentistry today, and what do you think about them? You'll be asked for your ideas in interviews, and a great way to prepare is read the editorial pages of important journals like The Journal of the American Dental Association.
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Pre-health advisor Marguerite Degenhardt