Individuals who want to become a dentist must undergo rigorous medical training as part of a four-year postgraduate program given at one of the few accredited dental schools in the country. There are currently over 18,000 practicing dentists working in a variety of different areas. More than 4,300 students apply to attend a dental program every year. Only 464 are accepted. It is important to understand what to expect from a dental university.
Anyone who wants to learn dentistry must first acquire a number of prerequisite classes in undergraduate programs. Most students earn a degree in science. Classes such as advanced physics are required for entry into a program. Certain students who have met all of the prerequisites might be able to get into a school for dentistry after only two years of college although this is not common and requires exceptional grades.
Students must go through a specific application process in order to earn a spot in a school. The first step for admissions is to take the Dental Aptitude Test (DAT). This examination tests scientific knowledge, critical thinking and problem solving. It also includes sections for manual dexterity and math skills. It is designed to eliminate students who do not have the skills necessary to become a successful dentist. Applicants will also have to interview with the school. The interview is in front of a committee and explores personal issues as well as thoughts and knowledge about healthcare and dentistry in general.
Students who are accepted into dental school will first undergo two years of preclinical classes. These classes cover everything from microbiology and human anatomy to pathology and chemistry. The courses are very intense and require learning a large amount of information in a very short period of time. Preclinical classes also include regular hands-on work in a lab. Students learn how to perform dental work on models and how to create prostheses and other devices out of different materials. Students have the option to choose a specialization during this time. Specializations include orthodontics, oral surgery and pediatric dentistry.
The last portion of the four-year program involves clinical coursework. Clinical work means that students will have to work under supervision in an actual clinic, hospital or other professional setting. A trained dentist provides guidance as students work on real patients performing general dentistry. This is a very stressful period and requires learning while working. Students must complete a specific number of hours of residency before finally graduating from the dental school with a doctorate.
All graduates must pass a final examination designed by a national association in order to work as a dentist. This examination is very difficult and tests all of the knowledge learned during classes and residency. The first half of the test consists of 300 questions that must be completed over the course of two sessions held during the same day. The second half of testing involves the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE). This test requires participants to move from one station to the next in a room reading patient histories and then explaining the correct treatment or diagnosis in response to questions posted at the station. Passing this final examination means the graduate can work independently as dentist after acquiring licensure in a specific region.