Dentistry is a challenging and rewarding field. Dentists help their patients in a variety of ways, by maintaining good oral health through regular checkups and preventative care, and correcting conditions that cause pain or impede daily activities such as eating. Dentists also have a creative side, helping their patients achieve a beautiful smile through restorative work and other cosmetic procedures. Many dentists go into private practice, but the field offers a variety of options, including clinical, academic and research opportunities.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), dentistry is defined as the evaluation, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases, disorders and conditions of the oral cavity, maxillofacial area and associated structures. Dentists lead teams to provide preventative and restorative care to keep people healthy, alleviate pain, and treat patients' oral health needs. Dentists are instrumental in the early detection of oral cancers and systemic conditions that manifest in the mouth and that can affect the overall health of patients.
- Dentists earn either a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine) degree upon graduation from dental school to become a general dentist. There is no difference between the two degrees; D.D.S. and D.M.D. dentists both receive the same education and both degrees use the same curriculum requirements set by the American Dental Association (ADA). It’s up to each individual university to determine which degree is awarded. Generally, four years of dental school is required to graduate and become a general dentist. State licensing boards accept either degree as equivalent, and both degrees allow licensed individuals to practice the same scope of general dentistry.
- Additional post-graduate training is required to become a dental specialist, such as an orthodontist, periodontist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon.
In addition to private practice, today's dental school graduates can choose to work in hospital emergency rooms, conduct advanced laboratory research, teach future dentists or even travel the world with international health and relief organizations.
Other careers in dentistry include:
- Dental hygienist: Educate patients on oral hygiene and care, clean patients' teeth, and perform laboratory diagnostic tests (e.g. X-rays) for interpretation by dentists. Dental hygiene programs require at least two years at the college level to complete an associate degree.
- Dental assistant: Assist dentists during dental procedures such as diagnostic, operative, and preventative procedures, maintain a sterile environment for infection control, and perform office duties. Accredited dental assisting programs are a minimum of one academic year.
- Dental laboratory technician: Manufacture corrective devices and replacements for natural teeth (e.g. dentures, crowns, bridges). While some community and technical colleges offer DLT education programs, careers can begin through on-the-job training in laboratories or dental offices.
Take the first step toward becoming a dentist
Your path to dental school begins by earning your undergraduate degree and completing any required prerequisite courses at Carroll University. Our advisors will work with you every step of the way to ensure your success. We also provide additional resources to help you build a strong graduate school application, research schools, prepare for graduate interviews and more.