Another way we communicate with each other is through our facial expressions and, although some may differ from culture to culture, a smile is the universal way to display joy and happiness. Not only can it let others know how we’re feeling, smiling can also lift our moods. Dentistry gives people the confidence in their smiles which can translate to increased self-confidence. If you’re interested in a career that allows you to work with your hands and change people’s lives serving smiles on a silver platter, read on for how you can learn more about studying Dentistry in the U.S.
Skip to Sections:Academic Routes Technical Routes Resources
Jump to:2-Year Degree 4-Year Degree Beyond a 4-Year Degree
You can begin your career in dentistry with a 2-year degree. Common general education courses in a 2-year program can include psychology, wellness, human anatomy & physiology (to understand the human body and how it works), chemistry, nutrition, and microbiology. Core classes will cover an introduction to dentistry, dental materials, a clinical look into dental hygiene procedures, dental radiology, dental office management, community dental health, dental technology, and dental anesthesia. Depending on your desired career goal, these courses may be more important than others.
Entry level careers with a 2-year degree usually include dental hygienists.
Some schools have career maps to show you how you can progress from studying to working at the highest level in that career field. Here is a career map for dental hygiene.
Source: Broward College (Fort Lauderdale, FL, U.S.A.)
You can’t really begin a career in dentistry with only a 4-year degree, but you can certainly make sure that the courses you take will put you on track for entry to a dental education program. Speak to an academic advisor at your university about entering a pre-dental track if your university has one; this will make sure you are completing the courses necessary for entry to a dental education program. Courses you would have to take in a 4-year degree program include regular chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, biology, microbiology, and physics. With this foundation and background, you can begin a career as a dental assistant or dental hygienist, but you would need to go on to a dental program to become a full-fledged dentist, orthodonist, or other advanced dentistry position.
Beyond a 4-Year Degree
A program beyond a 4-year degree is where your career as a dentist, orthodontist, oral surgeon, etc. truly starts. You need to have formal training for the skills and procedures you would need to conduct your work. There are many dental programs across the United States and their prerequisites (or program entry requirements) are all the courses mentioned above that you should take in your 4-year degree program. To get into these programs, you will also need to complete a Dental Admission Test, which is an entrance exam for students interested in attending a dental education program. Careers that you can have after successful completion of a dental education program are dentists, orthodontists, and dental surgeons.
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The following are technical routes you can take to achieve a career in dentistry:
Jump to:Apprenticeships & Internships Vocational Training
Apprenticeships & Internships
Apprenticeships provide on-the-job training and education while you work. This can look like working or volunteering with little experience but being trained to improve your skills. Not only are you learning the necessary job skills, but also the demands, hours, ways to interact with the public, procedures, and problems that usually arise on the job. This is an all-encompassing experience. Apprenticeship and internship opportunities in dentistry can be found through internet searches, networking, or through your school. These will exist at dentist’s offices or health organizations such as the American Red Cross. Tasks in an apprenticeship or internship may include scheduling patient appointments, taking and process x-rays, or cleaning and sterilizing instruments. Make sure to tell your apprenticeship/internship supervisor what areas of dentistry you are interested in so your tasks can help you gain more insight into that career.
If there is a business, organization, or person whose work interests you, ask them for the opportunity to intern or shadow them to learn more about the field and career. This is a great way to show your interest in the field and secure future opportunities to gain experience.
Similar to apprenticeships, vocational training provides hands-on learning experiences, but mostly through coursework. It is primarily schooling with an aspect of hands-on learning to teach the necessary skills and later put them into action in a classroom setting. You can find vocational programs at technical colleges. Technical colleges usually provide vocational training around becoming a dental assistant, which are assistants who work with dentists and provide dental hygiene care to patients, prepare medical instruments and equipment to be used, and maintain medical records. The length of a course at a technical college typically lasts one full year, although courses are based on hours to complete the program. So it is up to you how long you take to complete the program (taking more or less classes than a full load each semester).
Try not to decline unpaid opportunities especially if you have no experience. Eventually, you may become a paid worker. Through volunteering, you are gaining valuable hands-on experience that can be recorded on your résumé/CV, and you are building a network that you can lean on once you’ve elevated in your career. Ask different departments on campus about job shadowing, internship, or volunteer opportunities on campus or in the surrounding community.
You can review the Minnesota State CAREERwise website to explore careers similar to urban development in the Health Science career cluster. Here are more resources to learn more about careers in dentistry:
- U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Dentists: Similar Occupations | Dental Assistants: Similar Occupations | Dental Hygienists: Similar Occupations | Dental Laboratory Technicians: Similar Occupations
- Professional Associations: American Dental Association | American Dental Education Association
- Free Coursera courses: Introduction to Dental Medicine (University of Pennsylvania), Essentials of Global Health (Yale University), Implant Dentistry (University of Hong Kong), The Oral Cavity: Portal to Health and Disease (University of Pennsylvania)
Check with your institution of interest to find out more about their admissions application, program requirements, and the best way to map out your future for studying dentistry.
Unsure about what Dentistry is? Read our explanatory post here.