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How Many Years is Dental School

Dental schools require a minimum of 2 years of college-level predental education, regardless of the major chosen. However, most dental students have at least a bachelor’s degree. Predental education emphasizes coursework in science, and many applicants to dental school major in a science such as biology or chemistry, while other applicants major in another subject and take many science courses as well. A few applicants are accepted to dental school after 2 or 3 years of college and complete their bachelor’s degree while attending dental school.

All dental schools require applicants to take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). When selecting students, schools consider scores earned on the DAT, applicants’ grade point averages, and information gathered through recommendations and interviews. Competition for admission to dental school is keen.

Dental school usually lasts 4 academic years. Studies begin with classroom instruction and laboratory work in basic sciences, including anatomy, microbiology, biochemistry, and physiology. Beginning courses in clinical sciences, including laboratory techniques, also are provided at this time. During the last 2 years, students treat patients, usually in dental clinics, under the supervision of licensed dentists. Most dental schools award the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS). The rest award an equivalent degree, Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD).

Some dental school graduates work for established dentists as associates for 1 to 2 years to gain experience and save money to equip an office of their own. Most dental school graduates, however, purchase an established practice or open a new one immediately after graduation.

In high school, you need to take courses that will help prepare you for a rigorous curriculum in college, and ultimately, in dental school. You should take college preparation (prep) level courses, including four years of science and four years of math. It’s not a bad idea to take either Latin or Spanish as a foreign language: Latin will help to prepare you for understanding the origins of all of the scientific terms you will need to learn in college and dental school. Many scientific, medical, and dental terms contain Latin origins. For example, take the word osteoid that you will encounter in a college or dental school histology (the study of cells and tissues) course. You have ‘osteo’, meaning bone, and ‘oid’ meaning resembling. Spanish may also be helpful because countless people speak it, including large numbers who live in inner city areas close to many dental schools. As a dental student and resident, I was fortunate to be able to speak Spanish to people coming to the clinic for dental care.

As you go through high school, prepare for the SAT exam and strive to attain a high grade point average (GPA) of B (3.5) or better. You should try to get into a college that has a good reputation and a respected science department.

Dental schools, like medical and veterinary schools, require that all prospective students take 2 semesters of the following basic science courses in college: General Biology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, General Physics and all their associated labs. Some dental schools recommend 2 semesters of Calculus. If your college or dental school does not require 2 semesters of calculus, take only 1 semester – it will be more than enough. There are other courses that will be more important to you as a dental student.

Most dental schools do not mandate a college degree to get into dental school, as long as the required courses are taken. It is possible to get into dental school after two (very rare) or three years of college (I completed my requirements in three years), but over 95% of the dental students entering in the fall of 1997 received a 4- year bachelor’s degree.

Prospective dentists must complete a set of rigorous academic and professional requirements. Academic course work on the undergraduate level should include anatomy, chemistry, physics, and biology. All prospective dentists must complete four years at an American Dental Association-accredited school and pass the individual exams administered by each state. Passage of the National Dental Board Exam (administered twice a year), however, can exempt the candidate from the written portion of the state exams. If you wish to teach, do dental research, or engage in a dental specialty, an additional two to five years of study is required. After passing the exams and receiving a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM) degree, a new dentist may choose to apprentice under an established practitioner for several years, after which time junior associates may either buy a larger share of the partnership or leave to start their own practices. Nearly a quarter of all graduates buy into or purchase outright an existing practice after graduation. Financing is rarely a problem, as most dental practices are considered good investments by banks, as long as the internal cash flow of the practice is properly managed.

There are a number of professional degrees in dentistry offered by dental schools in various countries around the world. These include the following:

  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)
  • Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD)
  • Doctor of Medical Dentistry (DrMedDent)
  • Bachelor of Dentistry (BDent)
  • Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS or BChD or BDentS)
  • Bachelor of Dental Science (BDSc or BDentSc)
  • Bachelor of Oral Health in Dental Science (B OH DSc)
  • Graduate Diploma in Dentistry (Grad Dip Dent)
  • Cirujano Dentista (CD)

There are a number of post-graduate degrees in dentistry as well.

  • Master of Science (MS or MSc)
  • Master of Medical Science (MMSc)
  • Master of Dentistry (MDent)
  • Doctor of Clinical Dentistry (DClinDent)
  • Master of Dental Surgery (MDS)
  • Master of Dental Science (MDSc)
  • Doctor of Dental Science (DDSc)
  • Doctor of Medical Science (DMSc)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

In some universities, especially in the U.S., some post-graduate programs award Certificate only.

  • Certificate, GPR/AEGD/Dental Anesthesiology
  • Certificate, Endodontics/Prosthodontics/Periodontics/Orthodontics/Dental Public Health/Pediatric Dentistry/OMS (CODA-recognized specialty programs)

In Commonwealth countries, the Royal Colleges of dentistry (or Faculty of Dentistry of the College) awards post-nominals upon completion of a series of examinations.

  • Fellow of Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons (FDSRCS)
  • Membership in Faculty of Dental Surgery of the Royal College Surgeons (MFDS RCS)
  • Fellow of Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons (FRACDS)
  • Membership in Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons (MRACDS)
  • Membership in Orthodontics, Royal College of Surgeons (M.Orth RCS)
  • Fellow of Royal College of Dentists of Canada (FRCD(C))
  • Member of Royal College of Dentists of Canada (MRCD(C))

In the U.S., most dental specialists attain Board Certification (Diplomate Status) by completing a series of written and oral examinations with the appropriate Boards. e.g. Diplomate, American Board of Periodontics.

Each fully qualifies the holder to practice dentistry in at least the jurisdiction in which the degree was presented, assuming local and federal government licensure requirements are met.


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