Your Dentist’s Education
In the United States, a dentist must complete four years of dental school. This comes after college. Dental school graduates receive either a D.D.S. or D.M.D. degree. D.D.S. stands for Doctor of Dental Surgery. D.M.D. comes from the Latin Dentariae Medicinae Doctor.
Today, students in both types of programs receive similar training. One degree is not better than the other.
After receiving a dental degree, a person must pass two board exams in order to practice dentistry. One is a national exam. The other is a state or regional exam. A dentist’s license to practice is granted by the state where the practice is located.
After earning a D.D.S. or D.M.D., about 1 in 3 dentists go on for more training. Additional training beyond dental school is not required in most places for a dentist to practice.
Recently, New York and Washington state have instituted a one-year training requirement beyond dental school. Dentists can get this extra training in a general practice residency program in a hospital. Another option is an advanced education in general dentistry program. These are usually located in a dental school. These programs are typically one year long. Some include a second year. This training gives dentists more experience with different types of patients and dental procedures.
A dentist who wants to become a specialist — such as a pediatric dentist, endodontist, oral surgeon, orthodontist, prosthodontist, public health dentist or oral pathologist — must train for as many as five years after receiving a D.D.S. or D.M.D. This training occurs in an ADA accredited program, which is typically sponsored by a dental school or hospital. About 1 in 5 dentists are specialists. After completing an accredited program, a dentist is deemed board eligible. This is followed by a board exam. A specialist who passes the board exam receives the title “board certified.”
Many states require dentists to keep learning throughout their careers. This is called continuing education. Dentists can take courses at a university or receive education credits by going to professional meetings. One example would be the annual meeting of the American Dental Association. Continuing education helps dentists keep up to date on the newest research and treatment options. Members of the Academy of General Dentistry who take these courses can become certified as a master in general dentistry.