Overview of Dentistry College and University Programs

Dentistry college and university programs prepare you to identify and treat tooth and gum diseases and injuries.  The programs cover a variety of functions including working with children, extracting decayed teeth, performing fillings, educating patients on proper ways to clean and maintain healthy teeth and gums and fitting and implanting dentures.

Working as a Dentist

Working as a dentist is a way that you can start earning a six-figure salary as soon as you get your degree from an accredited college or university and complete your residency.  For example, as of May 2008, the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that dentists earn an average annual salary of $142,870. Three out of four dentists are self-employed, allowing them to set their own rates and increase their take-home pay.

Dentistry Degrees at Postsecondary Schools

Like other physician majors, dentistry degrees generally require six to eight years of full-time study to complete.  However, many accredited colleges and universities allow you to complete online and classroom courses on a part-time basis.  If you choose to go to school part-time, prepare to spend more than 10 years to get your degree.  Types of postsecondary degrees available to you as a dentistry major are Doctorate degree of Dental Surgery (DDS), Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM), Master degree of Dental Surgery (MDS) and the Master of Science in Dentistry (MSD).

Additionally, if you already have a dentistry degree, you can return to college or university and get graduate diplomas and certificates in areas like Diploma in Implant Dentistry, Graduate Certificate in Clinical Dentistry and the Graduate Diploma in Clinical Science in Oral Surgery. Getting these additional academic credentials will help you to continue to learn and remain current in latest dentistry practices, tools and patient laws and communication methods.  

Dentistry Curriculum

Curriculums in dentistry programs include electives like social science and liberal arts courses.  However, the core curriculum that you will take in a dentistry program includes:

  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Endodontics
  • Orthodontics
  • Periodontics
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
  • Prosthodontics
  • Pediatric Dentistry
  • Implantology

If you attend college or university full-time, you can complete your dentistry degree in about eight years.  Some accredited colleges and universities might require you to submit an essay and interview with an admissions counselor before you are enrolled.  Of course, earning high scores on your college entrance examinations like the SAT and ACT will help you to get accepted into top dental schools around the country.

These and other courses will help to prepare you to take and pass national licensing examinations like the National Board Dental Examination.  Top postsecondary dental schools are generally accredited by the American Dental Association.  They might also be accredited by regional accredited bodies like the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges and the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. 

Skills and Benefits Related to Dentistry

Beyond earning a six-figure salary and gaining the opportunity to open and manage your own private dental practice, after you complete your dental degree coursework and get licensed, you also gain:

  • Ability to diagnose and treat dental problems for people of all ages
  • Stronger communication skills as you work with employees, patients and other healthcare practitioners
  • Skills to perform cosmetic work on patients
  • Ability to detect other illnesses and diseases than can cause tooth decay and gum infections
  • An understanding of how diet impacts dental health
  • Appreciation of working with people from diverse backgrounds
Job Opportunities in Dentistry

Once you are licensed you can start taking x-rays, educating people on how to brush and clean their teeth, fill cavities, extract decayed teeth, perform root canals and bridge work and straighten and repair fractured and/or crooked teeth.  Job prospects for dentists are good.  The Bureau expects dentist jobs to grow by 16 percent from 2008 through 2018.

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