In the United States, dental study usually begins after four years of undergraduate study. Universities do not have undergraduate programs in dentistry; students planning to study dentistry can major in any subject, but should have a minimum number of prerequisite undergraduate courses in the biological sciences, chemistry, physics, and mathematics, as well as in the humanities and the behavioral and social sciences.
First Professional Degree
The first professional degree in dentistry, titled either the doctor of dental surgery (D.D.S.) or the doctor of dental medicine (D.M.D.) degree, requires four years of study — two years emphasizing the basic medical sciences, and two years providing a clinical orientation. To practice, graduates must also meet requirements of the state in which they plan to see patients, including satisfactory scores on the National Board Dental Examination and a state clinical examination. Admission to a U.S. dental school is highly competitive, with about twice as many applicants as positions available. Although anyone is eligible to apply, foreign nationals rarely gain admission to a U.S. school of dentistry without having completed at least two years of postsecondary study at a U.S. institution. In one recent year, out of 4,268 first-year dental students, 342 were foreign nationals. Chances of obtaining admission to private dental schools are somewhat higher than those of admission to state-supported dental schools, because public institutions generally give admissions preference to the state residents whose taxes support their programs. The American Association of Dental Schools (Web site at http://www.aads.jhu.org) publishes an annual guide to dental schools that includes useful information and statistics on admission requirements. Your U.S. educational information or advising center may have this resource and other reference material to help you get information on particular schools and evaluate your qualifications. Application requirements for dental school include a strong undergraduate academic record, proficiency in the English language, and a score on the Dental Admission Test (DAT) judged satisfactory by the individual dental school. The DAT examines proficiency in mathematics, biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, reading, and perceptual motor abilities. It is regularly offered in the United States. Occasionally, it can be scheduled in other countries — a U.S. admissions officer or pre-dental adviser must request such administration at least three months before a scheduled test date. For further information, contact the Dental Admission Testing Pro- gram, Department of Testing Services, American Dental Association, 211 East Chicago Avenue, Suite 1846, Chicago, IL 60611-2678, USA; Telephone: 312-440-2689, extension 2689; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
After receiving the D.D.S. or equivalent, dentists may apply for postgraduate training at hospitals or dental schools. Some programs lead to a master’s degree, and doctoral study may also be available. These degree programs typically prepare graduates for teaching or research careers. A university or a hospital may sponsor non-degree residency programs with a clinical focus. General practice residencies are highly competitive, and typically only about 4 percent of the students enrolled are foreign nationals. Specialty residencies tend to admit a considerably larger proportion of internationally educated dentists. These residencies offer training in dental public health, endodontics, oral and maxillofacial pathology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics, pediatric dentistry, periodontics, or prosthodontics. No one process exists to qualify internationally trained dentists seeking to study in the United States. One common requirement is that applicants must pass one or both parts of the National Board Dental Examination. Some specialty areas, such as oral surgery and periodontics, require that dentists complete at least the last two years of professional study at a U.S. university and earn a first professional degree at a dental school accredited by the American Dental Association. (About half of U.S. dental schools offer admission at an advanced level for internationally educated dentists wishing to complete a U.S. first professional degree.) State licensure and national board certification may also be required in some cases. Dental schools are more likely than hospitals to consider international applicants who do not have a U.S. license.