Dentists are quite important; we don’t realize their worth until we run into serious trouble. They are an indispensable part of the medical care realm. They ensure all of us receive proper and professional oral health care. Oral health must be taken care of all the time, and not just when there is some issue with the teeth, gums, and roots. That’s why dental procedures are a crucial part of the entire lifespan. And the demand for dentists is just going to magnify in the coming years. If you are ready to complete vast education and learn to use evolving tools and technologies of the trade, you should decide to pursue this career and become a licensed dentist. We will share with you the steps involved in becoming a dentist and what the career will involve in detail.
Role of a Dentist
Dentists diagnose and treat problems relating to mouth, teeth, and gums. They treat a variety of oral issues affecting these three. They provide preventive care plans and advice on oral hygiene along with performing teeth extraction, root canal procedures, tooth replacements, smile correction, fixing dentures, and other crucial surgeries. In addition to this, they also administer local anesthetics, perform surgeries, remove cavities, take and review x-rays, fit patients with prosthetics, and help patients in maintaining teeth.
Dentists are required to complete four years of supplementary training apart from an undergraduate degree. Once you complete your required education, you can choose either to work in general dentistry or work in a specialized area, such as orthodontics, periodontics, endodontics, maxillofacial surgery, and oral surgery. You can work individually or work with a team of specialist. In either case, you must need and supervise other staffs in the office, including dental hygienists.
You must live up to high standards in your work. Dentistry falls under cosmetic care, and therefore all patients expect nothing lesser than the best result. While you must work hard under pressure and be a hundred percent accurate, you will also enjoy several benefits, including great salary and sometimes, weekend offs.
However, you learn to accommodate varying cases and patients’ schedules by working overtime. When choosing any career, you must do the groundwork and understand what you will expect to earn when you join the profession. This will help you make a solid plan and set goals. Dentistry is a career with a reputation for high salaries. If you choose to specialize, you might make even more than general dentists.
Medicine is a challenging field, but becoming a dentist is worth all the sacrifices you will make.
Qualities a Dentist Possesses
If you are interested in becoming a dentist, you must identify the specific characteristics that dentists possess and make sure you have them.
1. You must be a hard worker and resilient
Your main duty would be providing people dental care and relieving them from pains and worries. If you think of practicing on your own, you may have to work for more than 60 hours a week and perform a number of duties, including physical checkup, removing cavities, scaling teeth, do the filling, fixing prosthetics, and prescribing medicines. You may also have to minor oral surgeries like extracting a wisdom tooth, root canals, and perform periodontal procedures.
2. You need to have the excellent manual dexterity
All physical examinations in dentistry are performed with hands and fingers. You will often be doing precise work on tiny, hard to reach areas. Therefore, nimble hands or excellent manual dexterity is an imperative trait in dentists. Your precision and motor skills will overlay your success road. To improve motor skills, you can do the following: play an instrument, sketch, draw, and paint, make clay models, and do hand muscle-strengthening exercises, such as putty, squeeze grips, etc.
3. You must be compassionate and empathetic
You must naturally have the desire to help people. All medical professions should take a genuine interest in helping people. People, especially children are usually scared of dental tools. Dental procedures like root canals and scaling can often be irritating and painful. Therefore, you must show care and treat patients compassionately to eliminate their anxiety.
4. You must develop problem-solving skills
Problem-solving helps you figure out the best course of treatment for the patients. You must come up with several alternatives for patients who cannot physically or financially afford the original treatment procedure. Identifying a problem, dissecting it, and approaching it logically will make you a keen problem solver.
5. You need to develop leadership and time management skills
You must perform procedures on different patients, for you need to give time for an appointment. Prioritizing work and fixing schedules, and sticking to it area few paramount tasks. Also, since it is understood that you will never work alone and you must at some point oversee a team, you must refine your leadership qualities and lead the team effectively.
Steps to Become a Dentist
Step 1: Study a Bachelor’s Degree in Science
If you want to enter into the medical realm, it goes without saying that you should pursue science from the very beginning. Degree in science or related fields will help you meet the requirements to enter a dental school. You must aim at earning good grades, learning as much as possible and developing habits, such as researching and exploring. First, decide on the dental school you want to get into. Keep a few alternatives ready as well for the ‘what if’ scenarios. Most dental schools have published their undergraduate prerequisites on their websites. Make sure you are aware of them. However, most schools require students to have studied biology, physics, chemistry, physiology, anatomy, and biochemistry, and pre-dentistry. Some schools only demand 90 hours of an undergraduate program. Business management subjects will also help you along the way.
Step 2: Apply to Dental School(s)
Make sure you apply for admission to more than one dental school. You must choose only those schools that are accredited by the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation. The accreditation will ensure your licensure after graduation. If you are a citizen of some other country, choose an organization with the highest accreditation.
The Dental Acceptance Test, administered by the ADA is one of the major criteria of a dental school application. The test scores, along with your undergraduate grades, recommendation, and interview will be considered for selection.
The Dental Admission Test
The DAT exam contains 280 questions, concerning natural science primarily, and reading comprehension and quantitative questions. The test is five hours long and the scores are given out of 30. Even the most brilliant students have not able to cross 20 points. So, your goal must be to score high marks.
The test must be taken a year and a half before you start your dental school, meaning you ought to take the test in your junior year of under graduation, between spring and summer.
Step 3: Obtain Recommendation Letters
You will need to submit letters of recommendation when applying for dental schools in the US. However, you must check if the requirement is a must in your country or not. You can ask your professor or the dentist that you have shadowed or worked with (if any) to provide you with a supportive and strong letter of recommendation, either by post or email. Make sure the person genuinely knows you and is aware of your work ethics.
Step 4: Get a Doctorate Degree
The standard program length of a dental school is 4 years, where you will go through both clinical rotations and regular coursework. Dental schools in America offer two different types of dentistry program that students can pursue: Doctor of Dental Surgery and Doctor of Dental Medicine. The ADA currently gives out nine different specialties in dental studies. You can focus on studying these if you wish to become a specialist dentist. However, to finish the specialty program, you must invest a couple of years more for education. The nine specialty includes:
- Dental Public Health
- Pediatric Dentistry
- Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
- Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
- Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
Becoming a specialist requires a postgraduate program and a couple of years of residency. Depending upon the specialty, your program length will vary from two to six years. Remember that the competition for specialty program is extremely fierce with openings only a very limited number of applicants. So, you must score the best marks to earn your position.
Step 5: Take the National Board Dental Examination Written Test
It is a written test, which you must take to qualify for your license. After passing your degree at an accredited school, you must consider taking this examination. The test is prepared to evaluate your basic knowledge in dentistry, and it covers topics like dental anatomy, biomedical sciences, dental management ethics, clinical ethics, and patient care and management.
The written test is part one of two that students must pass. The Commission on National Dental Examination administers the examinations. You should contact your dental school’s administrative or student-counseling cell to learn more about the application procedure, requirement, and fee for the test.
Step 6: Pass your National Board Dental (Clinical) Examination
The clinical examination is part two out of two of the licensure examination process that is required to be cleared for the state to grant you the license to practice dentistry. The rules and regulations usually vary from state to state, and it is different in each country. The clinical examination is performed under the supervision of experts. Here, you will be asked to provide treatments to patients.
Individual state’s board of dentistry regulates the clinical tests and most often the regional dental schools take responsibility to host the test annually or semi-annually. Sometimes, a regional third-party testing center is also used to manage the test process instead of a school.
Step 7: Begin your Journey – Volunteer in Dental Offices
Gaining real-time experience and exposure is extremely crucial in the medical world. Most employers look for applicants who have previous experience in practice. Gaining experience will improve your dental school application. The best way to do so is by volunteering in dental offices. You can directly call dental offices to ask about volunteering opportunities. Or, you can talk to your professors for guidance and references. Shadowing a dentist could gain you more credibility.
Step 8: Observe Dentists
This will be part of your studies, where you will be sent to observe dentists to learn more about the profession in a practical manner. It will also help you determine the direction you want to travel. Before you apply for a dental school, you should try shadowing a dentist to make sure the profession fits you right. It will also give you clarity about any specialization you wish to pursue after dental school.
Step 9: Get a Part-time Job
Although, volunteering and shadowing dentists will give you the right kind of exposure you need, choosing to work part-time as a dental assistant or receptionist will open doors to better opportunities. If you are able to manage time for studying effectively, you must get a part-time job while you are in your dental school. The job will help you understand your studies better. You will get experience in patient management, operational management, and behind-the-scenes duties, which is not possible to get by just studying the subjects.
Step 10: Choose Your Work Environment
You have a few options for a career after you graduate from your dental school and get your license. You can either join a private dental clinic or hospital and work with other dentists or start your own practice. If you do not wish to do what usual dentists do, alternative careers include lab researcher and dental schoolteacher. You can simultaneously focus on specializing in a particular area if you would like to.
Most dentists, after graduation, generally get opportunities for an association position within an established dentist at their clinic or hospital. If you get an offer like this, work with the dentist until you gain required experience and clinical knowledge and then go on to opening your own clinic.
You will come across most opportunities through dental organization career boards and your dental school.
If you have a question in mind regarding a particular area, shoot it in comments below and we shall answer it.