Choosing a career is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. The information below will help you explore one exciting career possibility — dentistry.

It will help you decide if dentistry is for you.

There are many unique opportunities and benefits within your reach if you choose a dental career.

A message is included for parents. You can use it as a starting point for discussions with them relative to your future career plans.

Take your questions to dentists, counselors and teachers in your community. Remember that it's your future, your career and your choice.

Dentistry provides many unique opportunities to treat patients who have a wide variety of dental needs.

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Dentistry — A Career for the Future

Most dentists practicing today made their career decision in late high school or early college. It is never too soon or too late to begin some serious thinking about your career in dentistry.

To get started, you will need to know what dentistry offers. This section discusses dentistry's many challenges and rewards.

Variety — Dentistry is a rapidly changing, expanding profession, involving:

  • Detection of diseases: Dentists are often the first health care professionals to recognize and identify a wide variety of diseases, ranging from hypertension to cancer.

  • Diagnosis: Dentists diagnose and treat problems affecting the teeth, gingival tissue, tongue, lips and jaws. To accomplish this, they utilize new technology such as computers and magnetic resonance imaging.

  • Esthetic improvement: Dentists improve patients' appearance by using a wide variety of cosmetic dental procedures. These services can make patients feel better about their smiles.

  • Surgical restoration: To repair, restore and maintain the teeth, gums and oral tissues that have been lost or damaged by accidents or diseases, dentists perform trauma surgery, implants, tissue grafts and laser surgery.

  • Public education/prevention: Dentists teach good habits for good health. They educate their patients, as well as the general public, on how to achieve oral health and prevent disease.

Dentists treat people, not just teeth and mouths. They interact with people of all ages, cultures and personalities. The dentist's typical day is diverse and interesting.

Creativity — Dentists are artists as well as scientists. To brighten one tooth or realign an entire jaw, dentists must have an artist's esthetic sense to help their patients look their best.

Prestige — Dentists provide an essential health care service. They are highly respected within the community.

Dentists are skilled, conscientious, civic-minded individuals who work with community leaders, educators, other health professionals and government officials. They often volunteer services to school health programs and to elderly, handicapped or poor citizens, demonstrating a selflessness that is a hallmark of professionalism.

Flexibility — Dentistry allows you to be your own boss. Dentists can balance their personal and professional lives to meet their individual needs and desires.

Dentistry provides opportunities in a variety of private and public settings including private practice, teaching, research, public health and administration.

Security — The average income of a dentist is in the highest 8% of U.S. family income. The demand for dental care will continue to grow. The increasing number of older adults are keeping their teeth longer, are more aware of the importance of regular dental care and require more dental services. Geriatric dental care and the greatly increased demand for newer services, such as cosmetic dentistry, also will contribute to this growth.

Personal Satisfaction — A career in dentistry is personally fulfilling. Dentists perform an important public service to help people maintain their health and appearance. To serve the present and future oral health needs of their patients, dentists enjoy the challenge of a lifetime of learning. Tomorrow's dentists will be at the cutting edge of high technology, making the practice of dentistry even more exciting and rewarding than it is today.

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Opportunities for Minorities and Women

Dentistry offers minority students exceptional career opportunities. The need for dentists from minority groups is very strong. Dental care may be accepted more readily when the dentist has knowledge of the patient's language and insight into their cultural background.

Career opportunities for women in dentistry are also particularly good at this time.

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The Dental Specialties

There are more than 166,000 active dentists in the U.S. today. Most dentists practice general dentistry, giving them the capability of providing comprehensive care to a wide variety of patients. Some dentists choose to limit their practices to one of the nine recognized dental specialties.

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Getting a Dental Education

Now is the time to start planning your predental education.

How to Prepare for Dental School

Contact several dental schools and inquire about their specific requirements. Talk with admissions officers.

If you are in high school, enroll in college preparatory classes in chemistry, biology and algebra. Get a broad exposure to science and math. A well-rounded liberal arts education is desirable.

If you are in college, build a solid foundation in the natural sciences, especially general biology and inorganic and organic chemistry. Psychology and business courses can also provide background important to your success as a dentist. You don't have to major in science, but you will need to complete the predental science courses.

Talk with a counselor or advisor who is knowledgeable about the health professions. Visit that counselor or advisor regularly.

Talk to your dentist. Ask to spend a day or two in his or her office. The local dental society may be able to direct you to other sources of information.

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Applying to Dental School

Prepare for and take the Dental Admission Test (DAT) a year before you anticipate entering dental school. The DAT is one of several measures of a person's potential for academic success in dental school. It is usually administered to students who have completed at least one year of college-level courses in biology and chemistry.

Apply for admission at least a year in advance. Most college students apply for dental school during their junior year.

Most dental schools require personal interviews with candidates to assess attributes such as desire to help people, ability to get along well with others, self-confidence, ability to meet challenges and capacity to work independently. The personal interview also allows you to ask questions about the school and its services.

Most dental schools participate in the American Association of Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS). This simplifies the application process. Generally, only one application for admission needs to be completed. To initiate an application to any of the schools participating in AADSAS, a candidate must obtain an official Application Request brochure from his or her predental advisor, a participating dental school or AADSAS (1625 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036-2212). If a particular school does not participate in AADSAS, the applicant should obtain application materials directly from the school.

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The Dental School Curriculum

A dental education usually requires a minimum of two years of college and four years of dental school. If you decide to go into one of the eight specialties, you'll need a minimum of two years of additional schooling.

The dental curriculum can be divided into three broad areas:

  • Basic health sciences, including anatomy, biochemistry, histology, microbiology, pathology, pharmacology and physiology, with emphasis on dental aspects.

  • Application of these health sciences, providing patient care in dental school clinics.

  • Practice management, including talking with patients, the use and management of dental office staff, business management, professional ethics and community health.

Dental schools grant doctoral degrees in dentistry. All dental programs in the U.S. are accredited.

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Tuition, Expenses and Financial Assistance

Although dental school may seem expensive, recent studies indicate that dental school is a good investment--a better investment than many other professional educations. One study showed that dental offices were the third highest ranking category of start-up businesses most likely to survive. In addition to tuition, the cost of a dental education includes books, fees, instruments and living expenses. Many dental students cover educational expenses through readily available loans; limited scholarships and grants are available for deserving students.

Dentistry combines a working knowledge of the basic sciences, technical skill and the art of communicating with people.

Dentistry offers your son or daughter prestige, variety, flexibility and financial reward. Financial assistance (for dental education) in the form of loans is readily available from a variety of sources.

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A Message to Parents

If your son or daughter demonstrates scientific ability and interest, works well with people and enjoys helping others, he or she may derive lifelong satisfaction from a career in dentistry.

As a parent whose son or daughter is considering becoming a dentist, you undoubtedly have many questions. What employment opportunities does a dental career offer? Is dental school a good financial investment?

A dental education is a sound financial investment that will more than pay for itself in terms of financial benefits and other rewards.

Those who choose dentistry face a considerable challenge. The demands before, during and after dental school are many, but the rewards will be even greater. Dentistry offers your son or daughter prestige, variety, flexibility and financial reward.

A major concern of any potential dental student's family is cost. Though a dental education may be expensive, it is within the reach of people from all economic backgrounds.

Financial assistance in the form of loans is readily available from a variety of sources One excellent source is a package of federal and private loans developed especially for dental students by the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) and the American Student Dental Association (ASDA). Further information regarding this loan program may be obtained by calling, toll-free, 1-800-225-6783. Financial aid officers at each of the dental schools also may be able to assist you by providing information about other loan programs.

Since loans are available, the financial support required from parents may not amount to more than help with living expenses for the dental student. The average educational debt of the new dental graduate is about six months average net income of dentists in this country.

Talk to your son or daughter about a dental career. By helping him or her decide, you'll provide the foundation for a future of satisfaction and success.

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For More Information

For more information, see the list of accredited United States and Canadian dental schools

The American Dental Education Association publishes a valuable guide for students interested in a career in dentistry. This publication is entitled Admission Requirements of U.S. and Canadian Dental Schools and may be obtained by writing or calling:

American Dental Education Association (ADEA) 
1625 Massachusetts Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036-2212
FAX: 202-667-0642

The American Student Dental Association publishes the ASDA Handbook, which contains more useful information on requirements for application and admission to dental schools in the United States. Additionally, ASDA offers a predental membership to individuals interested in a dental career. For further details, write or call:

American Student Dental Association (ASDA)
211 East Chicago Avenue
Suite 1160
Chicago, Illinois 60611-2616

For additional information, contact the dental school nearest you or the local dental society component of the American Dental Association.

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