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What is Dentistry?

Dentistry is the profession that brings together four different and unique sub-professions: science, art, engineering, and medicine. What makes the profession of dentistry unique is the opportunity to bring together a heavy science background that will train you to critically think, with everyday hands-on skills to create art, all while providing treatment to your patients. Most everyone has visited a dental office for at least a cleaning or filling. And if you have not, you probably know someone who has. But the profession of dentistry is so much more than a cleaning and/or filling.

First, let us clarify the difference between a Dentist, Dental Hygienist, and Dental Assistant, as many people outside of the dental profession are unaware of these differences:

  • Dentists must acquire a doctorate degree, either Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D) as well as a license to practice. Their role is to diagnose, prevent, and treat diseases of the oral cavity. (Will further discuss later)

  • Hygienists must acquire either an associate or bachelor’s degree and must work under the supervision of a Dentist. Hygienist provides preventative care only, such as cleanings and “deep cleanings”. They are also able to obtain radiographs and provide injections to administer local anesthesia.

  • Dental assistants are not required to obtain any certifications or training before working. They can be trained on the job, but most employers would prefer a certified trained assistant. Depending on the level of training, certifications obtained and experience, some assistants are only allowed to assist the Dentist in procedures by preparing the operatory, passing instruments during a procedure, and cleaning the operatory. More experienced and extended trained assistants can do all of the above, in addition to, obtain radiographs, polish teeth after a cleaning, and place filling material after the Dentist has prepped/cut a tooth to remove decay, amongst other things.

Types of Dentistry

General Dentist

  • There are a variety of specialties within the profession of Dentistry, the most common being the responsibilities and opportunities of a General Dentist. The greatest advantage of becoming a General Dentist is the flexibility to provide the type of treatment you want to your patients. If you love children, but do not want to train to become a Pedodontist, you may see as many children as you’d like, but you still have the option of referring children to the Pedodontist specialist. The same goes for providing orthodontic treatment, oral surgery, and any other specialty. As a General Dentist, you may obtain additional training to expand knowledge and skillsets beyond your dental school education. For example, if you are highly interested in implants, as a General Dentist you are allowed additional training to become efficient in placing implants. If you are interested in cosmetic dentistry, you may participate in additional training for veneers, crowns, gum lifts, etc. to help build your practice in “Cosmetic Dentistry”. The opportunities are limitless as a General Dentist.


Dental Specialties

  • There are currently 12 dental specialties recognized by the National Commission of Dental Specialties. (see list below) These specialties require additional training in post-dental school. As a specialist, you are no longer recognized as a General Dentist and are only allowed to provide treatment within your specialty. Some advantages of becoming a specialist include increased salary, greater job opportunities, and less competition, an opportunity to focus on one aspect of Dentistry, and high patient referrals.

    • Types of Specialties

      • Dental Anesthesiology

      • Dental Public Health

      • Endodontics

      • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology

      • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology

      • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

      • Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics

      • Pediatric Dentistry

      • Periodontics

      • Prosthodontics


For more information, visit the American Dental Association website 

Types of Dentistry

Tips for Prospective Students

Tips fo Prospective Students

Once you have decided you would like to pursue a career as a Dental professional, it is important to tailor your academic studies, extracurricular activities, and leadership roles toward strengthening your dental school admission application. Below are the top 10 tips and strategies to become the strongest candidate possible.

  1. Make the best and highest grades possible.

    1. Learn your study habits

    2. The 2018 National Average GPA of 3.57

  2. While DAT scores and GPA are important factors, being a well-rounded applicant plays a more significant role (community involvement, extracurricular activities, work, and life experiences, in addition to academics).

    1. Join student organizations that are meaningful to you.

      1. Become a leader in at least one organization

      2. Join a pre-dental society, if available.

  3. Stay in consistent contact with your prospective dental schools (at least once per year)

    1. Meet with the admissions office, ask questions and show interest

    2. Be open to feedback – provide an updated transcript and resume during these informal meeting

  4. Participate in Dental School workshops provided for pre-dental students

  5. Make a genuine effort to form relationships with science professors and academic counselors.

    1. Having STRONG LORs is important—the content of your LOR is just as important, if not more than the title of your reference. Be sure that your references can advocate for you strongly and positively speak to your experiences.

  6. Connect with a local Dentist (especially General Dentist) for shadowing and volunteer opportunities. Shadowing in various dental disciplines is an option to gain experience, make sure that these are experiences you can confidently speak to (bonus if you can shadow over an extended period of time to build a network).

    1. If you are interested in specializing, you will still need shadowing hours at a general dental office (Dental school trains you to become a general dentist, not a specialist.)

  7. Find a professional mentor (Dentist or current Dental Student)

  8. Prep early for the Dental Admissions Test.

  9. Professional Development

    1. Practice interviewing.

    2. Keep your resume updated.

    3. Begin to draft a personal statement and have your professional mentor proofread it.

  10. Know your WHY

    1. Completing the above task will become much easier when you know why you are sacrificing so much time and energy.

    2. You will be asked over a dozen times - “Why Dentistry?” Know your reason.

The Dental Admissions Test (DAT)

The DAT is a multiple-choice computer-based exam that measures:

  • Scientific understanding (biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry)

  • Perceptual Ability (two and three-dimensional problem solving)

  • Reading Comprehension (dental and basic sciences)

  • Quantitative reasoning (mathematical problems in algebra, numerical calculations, etc.)

When do I take the exam?

  • Most students take the exam after the completion of the prerequisites in biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry. It is recommended that you take the test at least one year before you want to start dental school; for most, this will be your third year of college.

Manual Dexterity

  • American Dental Education Association (ADEA) defines manual dexterity as “the ability to use your hands in a skillful, coordinated way to grasp and manipulate objects and demonstrate small, precise movements.”

  • Why do dental schools care about manual dexterity?

    • In order to perform dental procedures, a dentist must be able to work with precision on an extremely small scale. Superior eye-hand coordination is critical to ensuring the safety of patients and the integrity of the profession.

    • You will be asked, "what are some things you have done to develop your manual dexterity" during your dental school interview. Below are some activities that will help you with this.

      • Drawing

      • Painting

      • Wood Carving

      • Sewing/Needlepoint

      • Learning to play a musical instrument that requires hand-eye coordination (piano, violin)

      • 3D artwork (sculpting, ceramics)

      • Many more


Additional Resources

Additional Resources
  • Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP)

    • SHPEP is a summer enrichment program with a goal of recruiting and retaining health professional students with diverse economic, cultural, geographic, and ethnic backgrounds. The 6-week program helps college students enhance their academic proficiency and career development opportunities in a specific health profession.

    • Applicants must be a college freshman or sophomore and have a minimum GPA of 2.5.

  • Dental Associations

    • American Student Dental Association (ASDA

    • Student National Dental Association (SNDA)

      • Promotes supports and aids the academic and social environment of minority dental students.

    • Undergraduate Student National Dental Association (USNDA)

      • Undergraduate extension of SNDA

    • The American Association for Women Dentist (AAWD)

  • Podcasts

    • “Dental Up” hosted by Dr. Hazel D. Glasper

    • The Daily Dentist

    • Occlusal Table by Meharry College of Dentistry​

  • Undergraduate Programs

    • IDID Pipeline (Increasing Diversity in Dentistry

      • Designed for predental students to cultivate, nurture, and mentor underrepresented minority students attending college, for careers as dental professionals.

  • Dental Professionals to Follow via Instagram

    • General and Cosmetic Dentistry @dr_jackie

    • General Dentist @drjordanbrown

    • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery @dr.robpierre7

    • Pediatric Dentistry @patlolo

Contributions by: Adrian Wilson, DMD

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