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What does it take to become a dentist?

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Just like medical doctors or even lawyers, people interested in becoming dentists must complete their undergraduate course work. This coursework needs to follow guidelines so they then can apply to dental school. They must do four solid years of training. It’s a misnomer that all a dentist needs to do is to finish dental school. It extends past just education; they must complete several tests and possibly have a large amount of external training provided before they can practice with patients.

Although the road to becoming a certified dentist is a long one, its well worth it. In 2016, it was ranked as the second-best career in the U.S. with orthodontists topping the list.

Take the Test

For college students thinking about becoming a dentist, it is worth mentioning that the application process can extend over a year; and can take up to 2-3 years. For those in their junior year of college, it is recommended you take the DAT (Dental Admissions Test) during this time. As the American Dental Association notes, this is the most optimal time to start the process. It is strongly advised that students complete any dental prerequisites such as specific biology classes and any other science class before taking the DAT.

Attend Dental School

Alongside good DAT scores, most students need to have a decent GPA, experience shadowing a dental specialist, and well-written letters of recommendation to get into dental school. Albeit a student doesn’t need to bother with a science degree to enlist in the dental program, most dental schools require that students must take in at least eight hours’ worth of biology, chemistry, physical science, natural science, and an English course before they apply.

Most dental schools are a four-year program. It is a post-graduate program, which means that students must finish their undergraduate degrees first before they can attend dental school. Once students have completed dental school, they are awarded one of two degrees. One being a DDF, known as a doctor of dental surgery degree, or a DMD, a doctor of medicine in dentistry degree.  Both of these degrees are the same; they involve the same amount of coursework and methods of practice. The only real difference is the name of the degree. Look for either of these accreditations when searching for dentist requirements.

Typically, the first couple of years at dental school are focused on coursework, and the second two years are focused on clinical training. For each student, the path to finishing your training at a dental school will vary. However, regardless of which school you attend as long as you are designated with a DMD or DDF degree, you will have the knowledge and experience to begin treating your patients to the highest standard.

Pass Exams

Finishing dental school, you would think that dentists would be ready to go out in the world and start practicing: This is quite the opposite. Once students finish and are designated with either their DMD or DDS degrees, they must take and pass a series of exams. The NBDE (National Board of Dental Examinations) issues a two-part written exam, which all hopeful dentists need to complete and pass. Once this exam is passed, it is up to the individual to search out the clinical exam requirements for his or her state. In some states, an aspiring dental specialist can skip the clinical exam and complete a postgraduate training program instead. However, in places like New York, a postgraduate training program is a must, rather than an exam.

Consider a Specialty

About 20 percent of dentists in the U.S are specialized. These specialties would include oral surgery, orthodontistry, and pediatric dentistry. Although specialties sound great, they come at an extra cost, which is it requires more training. In some cases, training can extend to as many as six years of education and clinical training.

Emotionally Demanding

After you have settled in as a dentist, it is worth noting that this job, even though it has one of the highest-paid salaries in North America, has its downsides. Be prepared for not only a physically demanding job but an emotional one as well. Patients tend not to be the most relaxed clients you deal with within the medical profession. A lot of patients experience anxiety or are in pain when you treat them. This can cause patients to be upset if schedules get shifted by another patient who was late or any number of other reasons. Keep in mind that when in pain, most patients do not have a hard time being rude to their dentist.

In the world of healthcare, there are plenty of variables that are beyond the control of the practitioner. These variables, over time, can take an emotional toll on a dentist. As a dentist, you want things to go as smoothly as possible and keep the utmost standards when it comes to the patient’s wellbeing. Although you can’t make a patient happy 100% of the time, you are more than capable of doing your best to give them the best experience possible, which in turn will lead to a less emotional career in the long run.

Cost to become a dentist

Debt, a topic that is not frequently spoken about, can cause a massive hindrance to your life if you decide to go down the road of becoming a dentist. It can cause stress and anxiety and should be thought through in great detail before committing to it. Dental schools vary in price throughout North America; however, you can expect the average graduate to leave school with about a $250,000(USD) debt. The most expensive school with double that to $500,000 (USD). This would cover just four years of dental school.

If you factor in all the debt you have already accumulated from your undergraduate, possibly a car, and mortgage, house maintenance, etc. your debt can quickly rise to an alarming amount. Even though some people get to this level, they decide to take it a bit further. That extra loan amount would come in if you were interested in opening your own practice. You can add around another $500,000 to your debt. So, all in all, you could be looking at well over one million dollars in debt, depending on the path you take. Sounds a bit overwhelming, right?  It’s a very stressful thing to have that much burdening on you and your bank account, so make sure you are 100% committed and love what you do before taking the plunge.

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