Dentistry, also called dentistry and dental medicine, is a field of medicine which includes the study, identification, prevention, and therapy of dental disorders, diseases, and medical problems of the mouth. Dentistry includes the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and care of disorders of the maxillofacial region, including but not limited to the jaws (maxillofacial), lips (bronchi), and tongue (tongue). Other dental problems associated with the entire body are described as a systemic disease, which affects the whole body; and ophthalmological problems, which affect the eye. The word ‘dentist’ refers to doctors who specialize in treating dental disorders.
Most dentists begin their careers by earning a bachelor’s degree in a specific field of dental medicine. Usually this is followed by four to eight years of specialized training in an approved dental program, which may be a two-year college or a four-year university. After the initial two years of specialized study, dentists gain further knowledge and experience by participating in one or more internships. They will also need to acquire a specialized license from the state they reside or plan to reside in, after completing their studies.
To enroll in a dental school, students need to possess a high academic interest and exceptional academic aptitude, as well as proof of participation in advanced education programs such as those accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA). The program requirements will vary depending on the nature of the dental school. For instance, dental schools for the master’s degree require extensive prerequisites, and the subjects chosen may vary according to the discipline of specialization. The prerequisites for entering an undergraduate degree program will include chemistry, biology, and English. A minimum GPA of 3.0 is required for students wishing to enter an advanced education program in dentistry. Students may complete their premedical courses in their sophomore year.
Once students have their bachelor’s degree in dental science, they may choose to continue their studies by entering a premedical program for a two-year period of study. Premedical programs in dentistry cover the entire scope of disease processes in the mouth, as well as the prevention of disease, treatment of acute diseases, public health services delivery, and prevention of chronic diseases. It also covers the physiological and pathological aspects of the disease. The premedical coursework includes microbiology, chemistry, physiology, diagnostic procedures, medical terminology, pathology, pharmacology, radiology, and insurance administration. Most states require that dentists meet the requirements for registration by taking and passing a national certification exam known as the NCLEX-D.
In addition to their studies in dentistry, most dental medicine students take an intensive five-month residency in a dentist’s office. The residency is designed to train the residents in professional practices, professional grooming, administration, laboratory procedures, preventive health services, medications and other health-related issues specific to the field of dentistry. The residency is also designed to enhance the new dentist’s skills by practicing on and studying in dental offices of participating dental schools. Students must pass an exam before becoming licensed in dental medicine.
Dental school typically takes about two years from the time of graduation. It is important to realize that dental school is not required for anyone who wishes to become a dental practitioner. However, many states require dental college graduates to take the MCQP or the national certification exam for dental public health. If your state does not require this, you should consider obtaining the examination before going to dental school so you will be prepared to take it upon graduation. Earning your undergraduate degree in dental public health will prepare you for entry into the world of dentistry and help you prepare for state licensure upon graduation.