The UAAC encourages pre-dental students to meet with a health professions adviser in their freshmen or sophomore year to discuss their plan to pursue a career in dentistry.
Jump to a topic:
- Professional Responsibilities
- Resources: Learn More about Dentistry
- Specialties within Dentistry
- Professional Education
- Applying to Dental Programs
What do dentists do?
- Diagnose and treat problems with teeth and tissues in the mouth
- Give advice and administer care to help prevent future problems
- Provide instruction on diet, brushing, flossing, the use of fluorides, and other aspects of dental care.
- Remove tooth decay, fill cavities, examine x rays, place protective plastic sealants on children's teeth, straighten teeth, and repair fractured teeth.
- Perform corrective surgery on gums and supporting bones to treat gum diseases.
- Extract teeth and make models and measurements for dentures to replace missing teeth.
- Administer anesthetics and write prescriptions for antibiotics and other medications
- Can also teach, conduct research, and work in public and international health
Resources: Learn More About Dentistry
Specialties within Dentistry
Most dentists tend to be general practitioners, handling a variety of dental needs. But dentists can also practice in nine specialty areas (requiring additional training and licensing)
- Orthodontists straighten teeth by applying pressure to the teeth with braces or retainers.
- Oral and maxillofacial surgeons operate on the mouth and jaws
- Pediatric dentists focus on dentistry for children
- Periodontists treat gums and bone supporting the teeth
- Prosthodontists replace missing teeth with permanent fixtures, such as crowns and bridges, or with removable fixtures such as dentures
- Endodontists perform root canal therapy
- Public health dentists promote good dental health and preventing dental diseases within the community
- Oral pathologists study oral diseases
- Oral and maxillofacial radiologists diagnose diseases in the head and neck through the use of imaging technologies
- Degree Offered: Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD)
- Years of Study: 4 years for General Dentistry; additional training/licensing for the above nine specialty areas
Applying to Dental Programs
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The following are courses mentioned frequently as being required and/or recommended:
- 1 year inorganic chemistry with lab
- 1 year biology with lab
- 1 year organic chemistry with lab
- 1 year physics with lab
- 1 year English (including public speaking and composition)
- 1-2 courses in calculus
Additional courses most frequently required or recommended: biochemistry, genetics, physiology, anatomy, microbiology, economics, statistics
Refer to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) "Official Guide to Dental Schools" for the specific admission requirements for all U.S. and Canadian dental schools. A copy of the guide is also available at the University Academic Advising Center, room 34.
Dental students come from a wide variety of educational backgrounds and majors; therefore, choose a major based on your interests and aptitudes. The most common major for predental students is biology, as the dental course prerequisites are similar to the standard biology curriculum, but here at NU students can major in almost any area and still be able to fit in the dental course requirements.
Choosing a dental school
Choose a dental degree program carefully based upon factors that are important to your own learning needs. Consider program content, geographic location, faculty; facilities, experiential training opportunities, class size, student demographics, extracurricular opportunities, and cost.
For state-supported public institutions, legal residence may have a significant impact on admissions decisions. Private institutions may offer out-of-state and foreign applicants a greater number of positions as compared to state-supported, public institutions.
1. Academic ability and other important factors:
- Successful completion of prerequisite coursework
- Minimum recommended GPA for most schools is 3.0/4.0; average GPA for accepted applicants is closer to 3.4 and higher
- Dental School Admissions Test (DAT) scores are required by all U.S. dental schools:
- The test is available at designated test centers nearly every day and requires advance registration
- The test takes about four hours to complete
- Four sections - Survey of Natural Sciences, Perceptual Ability, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning
- Scores range from 1 (lowest) to 30 (highest)
- Good manual dexterity
- Ability to relate to patients in a realistic, yet compassionate, manner
- Good communication and interpersonal skills
- Leadership ability
- Motivation and knowledge of the field of dentistry
2. Clinical Experience
Students should strive to obtain exposure to the dental health field through volunteering in a dentist's office or clinic, shadowing a dentist and/or informational interviewing.
Such experience is vital in determining whether dentistry is a good fit for you and will be necessary in answering the personal essay/interview question "Why do you want to be a dentist?"
Obtaining clinical experience:
- The UAAC has a list of dental shadowing/informational interviewing opportunities.
- Joining the Northwestern University Pre-Dental Society may give you access to different shadowing opportunities.
- Consider your own personal/professional network.
- The Northwestern Externship Program (NEXT) may include dentists as part of their program. Students can sign up for NEXT in January for shadowing experiences that take place during spring break.
3. Letters of Reference
Generally, dental schools prefer letters from science faculty, faculty/others with whom the applicant may have special experience (e.g., research, internship, special project, summer enrichment program, etc.) and a dental professional with whom the applicant has mentored, shadowed and/or discussed experiences as a practicing dentist.
- NU students applying to dental schools can use the UAAC Recommendation File Service.
- The ADEA-AADSAS website provides information about letters of recommendation.
- Refer to individual schools web sites to check for specific requirements.
- Be prepared to discuss why you wish to pursue a career in the dental profession and how you perceive the role of the dentist in health care.
- You may be evaluated on your knowledge of the profession and your motivation to pursue a career in dentistry.
- Be sure to read over the dental school interview feedback for specific schools as part of your preparation.
- Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS)
Almost all dental schools use this centralized application service.
- Supplemental materials
Letters of recommendation, academic transcripts and any other required institution-specific materials (see individual schools for more information) may have to be submitted in addition to AADSAS
Some institutions are on a "rolling admissions" process, and give special consideration to applicants who submit applications earlier in the admissions cycle. Applicants should try to apply before August 1 for the upcoming year's enrollment, as most dental schools fill a large percentage of their entering class by December.