Dentists are experts in oral health. A general dentistry practice provides a wide range of care and treatment for patients. One of the first questions an aspiring dentist will ask is “how long does it take to become a general dentist?” The answer is usually about eight years, but it can vary. This guide will address how long does it take to become a general dentist and the steps that are involved from start to finish. Continue reading to learn more.
Two Degrees Are Required
Obtaining a degree in general dentistry requires that you get two degrees. You need an undergraduate degree before you even apply to dental school. In other words, you cannot go directly to dental school. Dental school is a graduate school program. This means you will have already earned a degree and dedicated, in most cases, four years to earning that degree.
Becoming a dentist is a process that requires six to eight years (sometimes longer) of hard work and dedication. There are ways you can shorten the process starting with your undergraduate degree.
The first step on the path to becoming a local dentist is to enroll in an accredited university to obtain an undergraduate degree. The undergraduate degree plays a vital role in how long does it take to become a general dentist. The type of classes that an aspiring dentist takes can affect how many classes they will have to take in dental school.
For example, a BS in Pre-med, biology, or chemistry can shorten the number of classes that are required in dental school. On the flip side of things, a BA in English would likely add to the number of required classes one would have to take in dental school. Choosing your undergraduate studies carefully can help to reduce the amount of time it takes to become a dentist.
Working closely with an advisor during the undergraduate part of the education process can help to ensure that you are taking classes that will shorten the length of time that it takes to become a dentist. The dental school typically requires course prerequisites, most of which you can take during your undergraduate studies.
Applying to Dental School
Applying to dental school is another step in the process of becoming a family dentist. Being accepted into a dental school program will prepare you to manage things like toothache, provide preventive services, design patient treatment plans, and more. However, this is a competitive process. There are a lot of people that aspire to become a dentist. In the United States, according to the American Dental Association, there are 68 accredited dental schools.
Each year around 12,000 people apply to dental school in the United States. There is only enough room at the 68 accredited dental schools for about 50% of those that apply. The competition is stiff and the process of being accepted can be long. However, there are a few things that can improve your odds. How long does it take to become a general dentist? As long as it takes to get into dental school plus four years.
Take These Steps to Improve the Odds of Getting Into Dental School
If you have visions of dental implants dancing in your head, you need to increase the odds that you will be accepted into dental school. The journey to dental school can be a long one that starts before you ever begin your undergraduate coursework. With proper planning, you can improve the odds you will get into dental school.
Your first step is to get into a university that offers either pre-med or pre-dental school degrees. To do that, you will need a decent SAT score and a high GPA from your high school years. You should start researching how long does it take to become a general dentist and ways to shorten that time early on in your high school career. Map out a plan that will put you in the best position. Take the right classes in high school, do well in those classes, and apply to universities that offer undergraduate degrees that are going to help you get into dental school.
Make yourself an exceptional candidate by bringing something extra to the table. For example, get some real-world experience in a dental office through volunteering or interning. Most dental schools require that you take the DAT. The Dental Admission Test is a subject-specific GRE (graduate record examination). A high score on the DAT can help to improve your odds of getting into dental school.
You will need reference letters. Some dental schools require up to four reference letters from professionals that can vouch for your character and outline why you are a good candidate for dental school. Before you can get to the point where placing porcelain crowns is what you do, you have to ensure that you have a few reputable people in your corner that will say they think you can succeed in the program.
How Much Does It All Cost?
While “how long does it take to become a general dentist?” is one of the most often asked questions about becoming a general dentist, you also have to think about how much it will cost to become a general dentist. First you have to pay for your undergraduate degree. There are grants and scholarships that can help. Next, you have to pay for dental school.
The cost of dental school (like all forms of higher education) largely depends on whether it is a private institution or a state institution and whether you are paying in-state tuition or out-of-state tuition. Unless you are lucky enough to live in a state with a state university that has a dental school, most students wind up paying out-of-state tuition which is higher than in-state tuition.
According to the ADA the first year of dental school for an out-of-state student will cost about $75,000. The cost includes tuition, housing, instruments, and books. Of course, again, if you go to a private institution will be higher and a public institution will be lower. In most cases, the cap for a four-year stint at dental school is around $400,000. Yes, you read that right. Dental school education can cost close to half a million dollars. Why is understanding costs relative to how long does it take to become a general dentist? Simple. You have to have a plan to cover the costs or you may not be able to finish the program, and then the answer to how long does it take to become a general dentist is forever.
In dental school you cannot take a “gap year” to reorganize your finances. In most cases, the school expects that once you start, you will finish. While it is not completely unheard of to have to leave dental school and then go back, it is a long process that includes filing appeals, going before a committee, and fighting hard to get back in. Having a plan in place for how you will cover the costs of dental school early on will ensure that you can finish the program and start providing gum disease treatment as a certified dentist.
How Long Does It Take to Become a General Dentist Once You Start Dental School?
In most cases, you can expect to spend four full years in dental school. There are some exceptions to how long does it take to become a general dentist. For example, if you have taken some of the coursework before in undergraduate school, or if you have a dental hygienist degree, you may be able to cut out a semester.
Typically, you will spend the first two years of dental school in the classroom and the lab learning core requirements. The second half is spent on practicum (hands-on training) under the watchful eye of an experienced dentist. Dental schools have clinics that offer dental care at a discount to patients that are willing to have dental students provide care.
Dental clinics can provide care that ranges from filling cavities to providing braces. During these clinical years, it is when most dental students decide if they will specialize in a specific field of dentistry. Of course, you do not have to pick a specialty, you can decide to stay on track and focus on general dentistry.
How Long Does It Take to Become a General Dentist in a “Fast Track” Program?
Some dental schools offer an accelerated program option which can shave a full year off the program. However, these accelerated programs pile up coursework and other requirements that can be daunting for many students. On the upside, with an accelerated program, you do get to save on the cost of a full year of dental school, which can save you between $75,000 and $100,000.
To complete an accelerated program, you must be very dedicated. It is a lot of pressure, but if you can handle the pressure, you can get through the program in three years and start offering tooth whitening services and other dental care sooner. It is strongly recommended that you investigate all of your options, and consider if a fast track or accelerated program is right for you before you make the choice.
How Long Does it Take to Become a General Dentist After You Graduate Dental School?
You did it, you graduated from dental school, and now you are ready to start working. Slow down, you have one more step. You must apply for a dental license. Every state has a State Board of Dental Examiners. You must take and pass the test, provide a background check, pay the fee, and wait until your license arrives before you can start practicing.
The process from graduation until the time you get your current license to work at a general dentistry practice can take from six to eight weeks. Most insurance companies will not provide coverage unless you have your license. For many recent graduates, this is a frustrating time. They are ready to get in the office and start working, but it is an important part of the process, and you must just wait patiently.
Many new graduates look for ways to speed up the process to get their license, but usually, there is no way to speed up the process. Keep in mind that there is a large influx of license applications immediately following graduation time.
Become a Dentist
All the time that you must invest to become a dentist is well worth it. When you have all your ducks in a row and can provide dental care, you can touch many lives in a positive way by doing something that you love. I f you are at the beginning of your journey, it can seem like the road to the finish line is very long, but each step you take will put you closer to your goals.
According to the ADA, in 2021 there were about 200,000 dentists in the United States. That is about 60 dentists per 100,000 people. The need for new dentists is high. Focus less on how long does it take to become a general dentist and more on the smaller goals that you are achieving to become a dentist and the time will pass quickly. In other words, keep your eye on the prize.
Start your research today by talking to people in the field, looking up schools, and learning more about the requirements. The sooner you get started, the sooner you will finish. Being a dentist is a very rewarding career that can also be very lucrative. Learn more about how long does it take to become a general dentist, then get on the path.