What Is a Licensed Dentist?

If you're interested in helping people maintain their oral health, you may consider becoming a dentist. All dentists who intend to practice in the U.S. need to become licensed. Read on to learn about the educational and testing requirements this process entails. Schools offering Dental Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Overview of a Licensed Dentist

Licensed dentists are healthcare professionals who have been approved by their state boards of dentistry to perform preventative and diagnostic procedures on the teeth, gums and mouth. As a dentist, your job could involve taking x-rays, performing teeth cleanings, filling cavities and applying fluoride treatments. You may also replace or repair broken teeth, write prescriptions, make dental appliances and provide instruction on proper oral healthcare. With additional training, you could become a dental specialist, such as a periodontist, orthodontist, endodontist or prosthodontist.

Important Facts About This Occupation

Median Salary (2018)$156,240
Job Outlook (2016-2026)19% growth
Work EnvironmentSome dentists work independently or with a small staff in dental offices. Others work with partners or in established dental practices.
Key SkillsCommunication skills, dexterity, patience, physical stamina, detail oriented

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements

To become a dentist, you'll first need to earn a bachelor's degree. Though you can choose any major, you'll need to take prerequisite courses, such as chemistry, biology and physics. You'll then need to graduate from a dental school accredited by the American Dental Association's (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). During the course of a 4-year dental school program, you'll complete classes in dental anatomy, oral radiology, biolchemistry, pathology, pharmacology and histology, among other subjects. You'll also complete clinical rotations in the different specialty areas, such as pediatric dentistry, orthodontics, oral surgery, endodontics and periodontics. Program graduates typically earn a Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.), Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) or Doctor of Medical Dentistry (D.M.D.). If you want to go into a specialty, you'll need to complete up to four years of additional training in your specialty area.

Licensure Requirements

After dental school, you'll need to apply for a license from your state board of dentistry. This process may require you to undergo interviews and fingerprinting, submit dental school transcripts, hold CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) certification and provide proof of malpractice insurance, depending on the state. You'll also need to pass a series of written and clinical exams. If you want to practice in a specialty area, you need to earn an additional specialty license. This can involve taking additional exams.

Below, the exams required for your general dentistry license are discussed in more detail.

Written Exam

To earn a dental license, you'll need to pass a written 2-part National Board Dental Examination administered by the ADA. Part I includes questions on biomedical science, biochemistry, physiology and dental anatomy and takes about eight hours to complete. Part II covers information about patient care, oral surgery and pharmacology, among other topics. You'll complete Part II over the course of two days.

Clinical Exam

Additional clinical exams are also required by state boards of dentistry. These can be administered by one of four regional testing agencies, or your state may administer its own clinical exam. During your clinical exam, you'll perform dental procedures on a mannequin or patient. Some states may allow you to complete one year of postgraduate dental education in lieu of taking a clinical licensure exam.

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  • Southern New Hampshire University

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    • Master

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  • Harvard University

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    • Columbia (D.C.): Washington
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    • Massachusetts: Boston