In the US, dental study usually begins after four years of undergraduate work (a minimum of two years of undergraduate pre-dental study is mandatory). Most students attain a bachelor's degree before entering dental school. Universities do not have undergraduate studies in dentistry; students planning to study dentistry take a combination of liberal arts and sciences, with any major being acceptable for admission.
Dental school curricula leading to the first professional degree, Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD), require 4 years of study -- 2 years with an emphasis on basic medical science as it applies to dentistry, and 2 years emphasizing a clinical orientation. Upon attaining the DDS, dentists must pass both the National Licensing Examination and the State Board Examination in the state of intended professional practice. Licensure may also be a requirement for further specialty training.
Foreign nationals applying to dental schools should remember that the level of competition is very high, for US citizens as well as for foreigners. The chances for admission are slightly more positive for foreign nationals than in medicine and veterinary medicine.
Chances of obtaining admission to a private dental school are somewhat higher than those of admission to a state-supported dental school. Because many dental schools are funded largely by state taxes, these schools naturally give preference to state residents. For this reason, students who are state residents are admitted to state dental schools before US students who live in other states and foreign nationals.
Although anyone is eligible to apply, foreign students rarely gain admission to a school of dentistry in the US without having completed at least two years of pre-dental study in an American university. Other requirements for admission are an excellent undergraduate academic record, proficiency in English, and a score on the Dental Admissions Test (DAT) judged satisfactory by the individual dental school.
The Dental Admissions Test, given in April and October, is a multiple choice examination which measures proficiency in mathematics, biology, chemistry, reading, and perceptual motor abilities. Although its scheduled locations are all within the US, applicants who inquire several months in advance can sometimes arrange an overseas administration. For further information, contact:
Division of Educational Measurements
American Dental Association
211 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611 (312) 440-2500
After receiving the equivalent of the DDS, dentists may apply for postgraduate training at hospitals or dental schools. Some programs lead to a master's degree in advanced dentistry. Others offer specialty training. Upon completion of specialty training programs, licensed dentists may apply for board certification in that specialty. These programs admit foreign dental graduates, particularly in fields such as dental public health, more frequently than do first professional degree programs.
There is no certifying examination administered worldwide for postgraduate dental students comparable to the USMLE for medicine. Some specialty programs, such as oral surgery and periodontics, require that foreign dentists complete at least the last two years of pre-dental studies in a US university, as well as complete the DDS at an American dental school accredited by the American Dental Association. Some may also require state licensure and national board certification. Dental schools are more likely to consider unlicensed foreign applicants for postgraduate training than are hospitals.
Dental schools and hospitals offer postgraduate continuing education courses lasting from a few days to a few weeks. These courses provide updates on the latest information about specific topics and are open to foreign dentists. Current listings of continuing education courses appear in the June and December issues of:
The Journal of the American Dental Association
211 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611 (312)440-2500