There is no denying that dentistry is a lucrative career choice for the increasing demand. In fact, according to the American Dental Association, the average pay for recent graduates starts at 130,000 dollars per year, making it the ninth highest paying job in the US.
And that is not all. A career in Dentistry would mean job autonomy, job security, intellectual challenges in the job field, and much more. However, this comes at a great price, both literally and figuratively. For starters, enrolling in a Dental School is complicated, with a passing rate of 55.3%, followed by an extensive 6 to 8 years of dental school. And it costs you just as much as Medical school.
So, while there is no reason to fear your dentist, you should somewhat worry about changing your lane a year or two after becoming a dentist, only to waste your time and energy and end up with huge college debt. That is why you should start asking questions from the start; 'do I see myself becoming a dentist?', 'what does the job entail?', 'do I enjoy dentistry or checking other people's oral hygiene?' 'Is dental school the right choice for me?'.
So, if you are in your First year, contemplating whether or not dentistry is the right career choice for you, then you have come to the right place. This article will walk you through everything you need to know to make an informed decision.
In this article, we will cover the following aspects of what lies ahead in dental school for you,
- What is Dentistry, and What are its Career Opportunities?
- How Difficult is Dental School?
- What are the Prerequisites of Dental School?
- What Factors to Look for in a Dental School Program?
- Final Takeaways
- Dental School requires undivided attention, extensive work hours, and much more; all in all, a commitment of eight years.
- And the process of getting enrolled is not easy either. It requires you to tick off an array of prerequisites before being eligible to pursue dentistry.
- So, if you have been contemplating and looking for answers to help you understand if this is the career you want, then keep on reading.
What is Dentistry, and What are its Career Opportunities?
Dentistry is an ever-expanding industry in the field of medical science, focusing on people's oral hygiene and dental care. And a dentist is someone who specializes in that field and gains the technical knowledge needed to help people diagnose, treat, and prevent dental problems. The process? Eight years of specialized training and schooling.
When most people hear about dental school, they think about being a dentist. But dentistry as a whole goes beyond that. With a degree in dentistry, you can access an array of career opportunities, including
- Dental Hygienist
- Dental Assistant
- Dental Technician
- Dental Receptionist
- Medical Sales Representative
- Anatomical Pathology Technologist
- Dental Therapist
- Health Improvement Practitioner
- And, of course, a Dentist.
And all these professionals work as a team to promote dental health and help people become more confident when they 'smile bright like a diamond.'
How Difficult is Dental School?
The level of difficulty in case of any career choice is always subjective. So, while I cannot give you a number, I can indeed describe it to you and let you be the judge of it.
When pursuing dentistry, most pre-dents find it daunting because of the amount of content to cover in such limited time instead of the actual study materials. That is why most students start preparing as early as Freshman Year and apply for the DAT within Junior Year, so there is enough time to reflect and leave no room for errors.
While this may not sound that bad, this would mean you will have to miss hangouts and dates and spend more time in libraries and your room studying than an average student your age. And although DAT allows students from non-traditional backgrounds to sit for the test, you will have to work twice as hard if you are one of them.
And while you are preparing for the DAT and maintaining your GPA simultaneously, you will have to sacrifice most of your social life. And even then, you may still have a slim chance of getting accepted to your dream school. So, by the end of your final year, you will see many students second-guessing and changing lanes. However, the good thing about DAT is you can apply whenever you want. So, even if you are unsure now, you can always come back and achieve your dentistry dream.
What are the Prerequisites of Dental School?
The Dental Industry being as competitive as it is, it only makes sense that it would require applicants to meet multiple prerequisites before being deemed eligible to enroll in a Dental School. And based on these prerequisites, the schools will assess your application to determine whether or not you have what it takes to pursue a career in Dentistry.
Completing Your Bachelor’s Degree
You should maintain a good GPA regardless of the career you embark upon. However, this is more prominent in the case of dentistry. Since the number of dental schools has increased over the past twenty years, so has the competition among pre-dental students.
Today, you require an average total GPA of 3.57 and an average of 3.48 in science to stand against the competition. And even though this is the minimum requirement, it is always safer to be above average to have a better chance against other applicants.
The good thing about dentistry is that most dental schools agree upon similar coursework. So, even if you do not belong to a science background, you can meet the basic requirements.
The minimum requirement for enrollment is
- two semesters of biology,
- two semesters of organic chemistry,
- two semesters of physics,
- two semesters of general chemistry,
- and lab work related to the courses.
Apart from that, you may even have to complete additional coursework depending on your targeted school. So, once you complete the core subjects, you can start ticking off the more advanced courses, such as,
- microbiology course,
- physiology course,
- math courses,
- English composition courses,
- biochemistry, and more.
In such a case, you will have to look into the ADA and the dental admission requirements of your preferred school to understand all the coursework needed to apply.
Passing Your Dental Admission Test
The DAT or the Dental Admissions Test is a comprehensive evaluation test designed by the ADA to assess a student's potential to pursue a career in dentistry. This well-rounded four-and-a-half-hour test comprising four sections gets rated on a scale of 1 to 30, with 17-18 being the minimum average grade expected for enrollment. So, you require extensive knowledge of all core subjects to get the perfect score.
While that sounds overwhelming, according to the American Dental Association, only 2 to 5 per cent of all applicants get accepted into top universities. Moreover, you can only apply thrice before seeking permission from the ADA.
So, to prepare for the DAT to get an above-average score? With the rising competition, you want to make sure you are always one step ahead of the game. And to attain that edge, you may want to start with the core subjects in your first year since there is a lot to cover in a short time frame. That way, by next year, as a Sophomore, you will be able to join pre-dental clubs and dental programs and take online exams to identify the areas you lack and work on.
Thus, this will allow you enough time to build your basics, reflect on your preparation test scores, and start planning on when to take your DAT. So, by the end of your Sophomore year, you can take your first DAT and reserve your summer break for volunteering work. That said, an alternative timeline would be to sit for the DAT during your Junior year, the summer break of your Junior year, or at the beginning of your Senior year.
You will have to devote considerable time and energy to pass the test. So, remember to schedule your DAT in advance to prevent it from clashing with semester finals. However, if you are from a non-traditional background or making a career shift, you must schedule your DAT exam at least six months prior. This way, you can reserve your weekends for preparations and amp up study hours as exams near.
Do I Need Work Experience?
Like every other profession in healthcare, Dental Schools require practical work experience to assess the applicant's overall understanding of a career in the dental industry. These work experiences cover any activity or voluntary work performed in different dental settings for a minimum of two weeks.
So, how and where can you gain these experiences?
- Dental laboratories can help you gain valuable first-hand experience making dental crowns, dentures, and much more. And to get access to any laboratory, you can contact your dentist and ask if you can visit or even apply to volunteer.
- While you wait for your DAT scores to come in, you can even volunteer at senior homes or youth centers within your neighborhood, giving you an edge in interviews.
- And luckily, if you have friends or relatives that you can work closely with, you can gain vital experience in both NHS and shadowing.
Moreover, any work experience in the said field will provide insight into what the job entails, look at the bigger picture, and reflect on your experience. It will allow you to evaluate whether or not you are fit for the career. So, it is crucial to make a career decision.
Consulting with Your Pre-Health Advisor
If you are yet to figure out whether or not dentistry is the right fit for you, then it is time to consult your pre-health advisor. A pre-health advisor offers advisory services to students wanting to pursue a career in the dental industry.
Once you consult your pre-health advisor, they will evaluate your profile based on your skills, goals, academic accomplishments, and more. And based on their evaluation, they will help you,
- find out whether the school you have targeted is the right choice
- guide you to better schools or schools that fit right for you
- help assess school programs
- guide you to reach the prerequisites needed to enrol
- help you understand if you should be pursuing dentistry
- help you find universities that accepted similar applications
In many undergrad schools, pre-health advisors handle the applications, send them to dental schools and make recommendation calls. So, in such a case, maintaining consistent communication can work in your favour. With that said, if your application is not up to the mark, there is a more than likely chance that your pre-health advisor may not place much attention on you. You must work hard to meet the school requirements and look for other resources.
Searching and Applying for Dental Schools
Now, it is time for you to start hunting. That is to say, to look for the best schools and school programs that align with your interests and goals. And the way to do that is to look into the school requirements and compare them to your application and work experience.
Remember that the trick here is to apply to a good mix of private and public schools. And then to balance it out with safety schools as a safety net, so you can maintain a more than average chance of getting accepted to a dental school. The rule is simple,
- apply to at least three schools where you have a slimmer chance of getting accepted,
- apply to eight target institutions where you stand a good chance of getting accepted, including your dream college,
- and then apply to at least five safety schools.
An excellent way to predict your acceptance is to compare the applications, DAT scores, and acceptance rates or talk to applicants enrolled last year and understand where you stand. And then modify your application accordingly.
What Factors To Look For In A Dental School Program?
So, you have achieved your bachelor's, passed your DAT with a good score, and applied to several dental schools. Now, your job would be to select the school that is the right fit for you, depending on your career goals and interests. And the best way to do that is to evaluate the school programs and assess what they offer to you.
The aspects to look for in a dental program include,
- The first thing to evaluate is the school curriculum and if they offer the preferred subjects and opportunities related to your career choice.
- Next, check the grading policy, the exam policy, the workload, and how they evaluate students within the program.
- Then, to evaluate the semester fees and compare them to the other universities and what they are willing to offer at that price.
- Lastly, compare the dorm costs, living arrangements, location of your campus, and most importantly, whether your school has the reputation to live up to its standards.
Dentistry is a considerable investment of both your time and energy. So, whatever your reasoning for applying for dental schools, make sure that you are ready for the huge commitment.
A huge commitment that requires extensive time and energy to prepare. So, if you need help designing and landing a better score on DAT, then it is time for you to check out PATcrusher. At PATcrusher, we provide all the resources and best test programs you need to achieve an above-average score. So, what is with the wait? Sign up today.