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Your Dentist's Education

In the United States, a dentist must complete four years of dental school. This usually comes after graduation from a four-year college.

Dental school graduates receive either a D.D.S. or D.M.D. degree. D.D.S. stands for Doctor of Dental Surgery. D.M.D. comes from the Latin Dentariae Medicinae Doctor. All dentists receive the same training. One degree is not better than the other.

After receiving a dental degree, a person must pass two board exams in order to practice dentistry. One is a national exam. The other is a state or regional exam. A dentist's license to practice is granted by the state where the practice is located.

After earning a D.D.S. or D.M.D., about 1 in 3 dentists go on for advanced training. Most states do not require training beyond dental school for a dentist to practice.

Recently, New York and Washington states added a requirement that dentists must have at least one year of advanced training beyond dental school. This is often referred to as an internship or residency year.

Dentists can get this training in a general practice residency program in a hospital. Another option is an advanced education in general dentistry program. These are usually located in a dental school. The programs are typically one year long. Some include a second year. This training gives dentists experience with different types of patients and dental procedures.

A dentist who wants to become a specialist must train for as many as six years after receiving a D.D.S. or D.M.D. The American Dental Association recognizes these eight specialties:

  • Pediatric dentist
  • Endodontist
  • Oral surgeon
  • Orthodontist
  • Prosthodontist
  • Public health dentist
  • Oral pathologist
  • Oral radiologist

Specialty training occurs in ADA-accredited programs. Typically, they are sponsored by a dental school or hospital.

About 1 in 5 dentists in the United States are specialists. After completing an accredited program, a dentist is deemed board eligible. This is followed by a board exam. Usually, it has a written part and an oral part. A specialist who passes the exam may use the title "board certified."

All states require dentists to keep learning throughout their careers. This is called continuing education. Dentists can take courses in several settings, such as at universities. Courses also are offered at meetings of state dental societies, the American Dental Association and other professional groups. Continuing education helps dentists keep up to date on the newest research and treatment options.

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