Dental Degrees

Educational and Licensing Requirements for Dentists in the US

: How 5 hurdles and a marathon help keep your dentist on her toes...   

What, you may well ask, are the minimum requirements for someone to stick their mitts in your mouth? Well, like so many things, it depends on whom you ask. But if you ask the US government, you’ll discover the educational and licensing requirements for US dentists are far from minimal, indeed.

A degree from an accredited dental school is only the first hurdle.

Training in US dental schools

Dentists face educational hurdles.

The educational and licensing requirements for US dentists are far from minimal. A degree from an accredited dental school is only the first hurdle.

Before they can get into dental school, candidates must have at least three years of undergraduate education. Still, most dental schools in the US actually require applicants to have earned their BA.

Once they make it through the doors, future dentists find that dental schools are set up very much like medical schools. The academic program takes four years to complete. Students divide their time between courses that cover medical science, dental science, and hands-on, clinical training. No student graduates from a US dental school without passing the two-part National Board Dental Exam known as the NBDE I and II.

As is true in a number of countries around the world, including Japan, Sweden, and Canada, the US defines a dentist as a healthcare pro who has graduated from an accredited dental school with one of two degrees. These are the Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) and Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degrees. They’re just two out of a long list of dentistry degrees that exist around the world.

Dental Degrees: What’s the difference between the DMD and DDS?

How is a DMD different than a DDS degree? The simple answer is, the two are the same. Except for the slightly different names, the degrees are functionally equal, according to the American Dental Association. That said, more schools do use the DDS name.

Even more requirements…

More hurdles ahead? You bet there are.

…before anyone with a dental degree can practice general dentistry in the US, they must also pass a licensing exam…

You may think spending most of a decade to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees would be enough. Yet, before anyone with a dental degree can practice general dentistry in the US, they must also pass a licensing exam. Some states administer their own licensing exams, but in general, this is done by one of five regional testing agencies.

And they aren’t through yet…

With a successful licensing exam behind them, dentists must still apply to the states they plan to work in. What’s more, they must pass a state’s ethics exam before they can set up their practice.

Lastly, all dentists must complete a number of Continuing Dental Education (CDE) courses each year so they can keep their license. The specific number of courses varies by state.

Five Hurdles and a Marathon

Undergraduate and graduate degrees? Check. The two-part National Board Dental Exam? Check. Federal and state licensing? Check. Devoting even more time to staying up to date, year after year? Check. That’s five major hurdles and a lifetime learning marathon still ahead.

…seems like just about the right number of hurdles…

Hmmm…come to think of it, that seems like just about the right number of hurdles for someone to clear before you should let them put their hands on your pearly whites.

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