I’m taking a break from writing on the AADSAS to write an FAQ for pre-dentals. It can be rather confusing to parse through so many pages of information, especially reading my lengthy writing #sorrynotsorry. Anyways, I’m really enjoying writing these and based on the blog stats, people around the country are actually reading them! I had phenomenal advisors and mentors through my pre-dental years and I can only hope to give back just a little to that community! So here’s your FAQ and I’ll try to make it short-ish:
What in the world do dentists do?
From the ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools: “A dentist is a scientist and clinician dedicated to the highest standards of health through prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of oral diseases and conditions.”
Easy enough. A general dentist can pick and choose which procedures they do, specifically focusing on operative and restorative dentistry – this can manifest itself as fillings (composite and restorations), dentures, minor orthodontic work (i.e. Invisalign), implants, straightforward root canal treatments, and so much more that I don’t even know about since I’m still learning too. See below for info about dental specialties.
Ew mouths are gross. Why be a dentist?
I’ll insert my own quip here but after this I’ll shut up – I was asked this question all the time in college. Someone even went as far as to say, “You probably want to be a dentist because you know you’ll never get into medical school.” I have professors and maybe future employers reading this blog so I can’t really say what my response was.
Anyways, again, here is the ADEA guide’s response: “Dentistry is a dynamic health profession. Dentists are financially successful health professionals and highly respected members of their communities. The demand for dental care will continue to be strong in the future, ensuring the stability and security of the profession.”
In my words: Dentistry is chill because you’re always doing something different. It’s no desk job and the cubicle is obsolete in this field. You’re always doing something with your hands, interacting with patients, and using unique skills to alleviate patients’ pain and also prevent future health problems, both oral and systemic. Dentists make good money with a great lifestyle to boot and you have many options when it comes to work – corporate, private practice, etc. You own yourself. Lastly, as long as people have mouths (and last time I checked, the world isn’t selecting for the mouthless), dentists will be needed – job security is omnipresent. That was long but I hope I’ve convinced you!
Sold! Wow! How cool! How do I become a dentist?
In most cases, you’ll need a BA or a BS to matriculate to dental school, but your major doesn’t matter. I studied both biology and classics and though the latter is relatively useless in what I’m currently doing in SIM clinic, I still liked doing it in college. You’ll need to complete a series of prerequisite classes that varies from school to school, but generally is 8 hours of biology (with lab), 8 hours inorganic chemistry (with lab), 8 hours organic chemistry (with lab), 8 hours physics, 8 hours English, DAT scores, and experience with dentistry by means of shadowing or volunteering.
Note, though, dental school is, by no means, easier to get into than medical school. This is absolute fiction and dentists are real doctors as well.
You do NOT have to major in biology or the natural sciences to become a dentist or even apply to dental school. Plenty of people do just fine with majors external to STEM. Major in whatever you want – liberal arts for all!
Oh no, I have an X GPA and a Y DAT score, I don’t think I’m going to get into dental school. What do I do?
Well, you never know unless you try. The average DAT score of a matriculating dental student is 18 and the average GPA is around a 3.6* (these numbers held true for when I applied to dental school, however, I can no longer find a reliable source for either of these two numbers, will update when I can). Keep in mind that these are averages, and therefore there are accepted students that deviate beyond these numbers, but on the upper and lower limits of the DAT and GPA scales. It’s just an average, but realistically, your DAT and GPA are the two biggest things on your application that you are in total control in. Aim to do as well as you can in college and study as hard for the DAT, both will result in habits that will benefit you well in dental school.
In the instance you are rejected and must take a gap year, consider changing up your application – do you need to retake the DAT? Do you need to retake classes? Diversity your portfolio of extracurriculars? Rewrite your personal statement? All or only some of the aforementioned might be pertinent to you, but to put things plainly, never submit the same application as the previous one that got you rejected. The sheer definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result. Don’t do it. Ultimately, it’s up to you to channel that sadness, anger, etc. and use it in your best interest, revamping your application and making yourself a better applicant the second time around. (Make sure your prerequisites and DAT score will still be valid when you apply the following year, each school is different and some will only accept prerequisites taken within X years of applying, as with DAT scores. For DAT scores, they typically expire after three years, but again, you must check with each school).
If you want to be a dentist badly enough, you will eventually get in.
How do I become a compelling applicant?
Dentistry should be your passion, and your application should exude that, inside and out. Your extracurriculars and school activities should focus on things that give a window to the world on who you are – dental admission committees are pretty good at discerning fact from fiction and one’s true passions and intentions. Coming from someone who used to serve in an office of admission at a selective liberal arts school, I can absolutely assure you that it is relatively easy to see through an applicant that looks impeccably perfect – real patients are treated by real doctors, who are real people.
Great candidates for dental school are those that have done their research and confirmed that dental school is the path they want to take to arrive at their lifelong career. High GPAs, stellar DAT scores, dental experience, excellent letters of recommendation can demonstrate to admission committees your commitment to dental medicine. However, it is crucial to note that there is no single “perfect” applicant, hence I used the terminology “compelling.” Dental schools could fill their entire classes with boring, type-A students (not knocking type As) with near perfect GPAs and DAT scores – again, real people make real doctors that treat real patients. Demonstrate that your skills and life experiences are unmatched and unlike those of any applicant with your personal statement and extracurricular activities.
Finally, certain schools look for certain traits in applicants. Again, this comes down to researching your designated dental schools. Some schools are heavily research-based and expect publications from their dental students during their tenure at the school. Other schools are clinic-heavy, wanting to produce practitioners with the best hand skills required to do all types of dentistry. Other curriculums may have an inclination toward community service. Consider which schools and their corresponding philosophies might best fit your lifestyle and personal beliefs.
I’m an older student (>25 years old), what advice do you have for me?
If you are applying later in life than most applicants (traditional applicants applying during their junior year of college or during their gap year), I frankly think you have an advantage. You have far greater life experience that has molded and imparted you wisdom beyond that of a regular college graduate. Use the personal statement and your extracurriculars to talk about those experiences and the lessons learned from your prior careers, travels, or family life. If you can demonstrate your maturity and expansive skill set, you too can stand out amongst the sea of recent graduates.
Dental school sounds hard. How long is it? What type of tests do you take during it?
You’re darn right that dental school is hard! But it’s also so much fun. Dental school is a four year program, with the exception of University of the Pacific in California, which awards a DDS degree in only three years instead of four. What’s the difference between the DDS and a DMD? Absolutely nothing. Doesn’t mean a thing, other than people now address you by “Dr.”
During dental school, you will take three board exams – the first two, NBDE Part I and II are multiple choice, computer-based exams at Prometric centers just like the DAT. Dat computer-based standardized testing never ends! NBDE Part I focuses on didactic material you learn during your first year or two of school (so things like anatomy, physiology, dental morphology, occlusion, etc.) and the NBDE Part II focuses more on dental-related things (i.e. the length of a 329 vs. a 330 bur, case studies, etc.). However, I have been told that beginning with the class of 2021, some dental schools will be rolling out a new, comprehensive NBDE exam to be taken during the fourth year. This will whittle the number of high-stakes exams down from three to two, but caveats include combining all of that material, accumulated over the course of four years as opposed to 1-2 per NBDE exam. More information to come as I pick administrative minds about the new NBDE.
Finally, during your fourth year, you will take a clinical exam (NERB, WREB) or an alternative exam (the OSCE, portfolio, etc.) to become a licensed dentist in the region in which you will practice.
What’s the day in the life of a dental student?
Great question. It changes every day, just like the life of any normal, practicing dentist. Generally, your first two years of dental school will focus on didactic and preclinical work (on SIM clinic mannequins) and your final two years will involve you treating patients in the school’s dental clinics or even traveling for rotations and outreach in underserved populations. Some schools have block schedules for their classes (i.e. a certain blocked-off timeframe to complete one class, then you move on to another block to complete the next class, and so on), but each dental school is unique in its own scheduling model. For blog posts on my own everyday experiences as a dental student, go over to the right navigation bar and click “D School.”
What can I do after dental school?
Dental medicine is great because you are not required to enter into a residency or fellowship upon completion of your four years at an accredited dental school. That means you have the option to participate in MATCH or attempt to specialize beyond general dentistry or you may dive into the workforce and begin your attempt at chipping away from your massive pile of student loans.
Dental residencies include a General Practice Residency/Advanced Education in General Dentistry (12 months; technically not a specialty residency, but considered advanced education), Public Health (1-2 years), Endodontics (2-3 years), Oral Surgery (4-6 years), Orthodontics (2-3 years), Pediatrics (2-3 years), Periodontics (3 years), Prosthodontics (1-3 years), Oral Medicine, or Radiology (I am unsure of residency lengths for the final two). There will be a separate post detailing each residency.
*This post is sponsored by Colorado ASDA
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