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Preparing for a Career in Dentistry

Getting Started

Have you decided to pursue a career in dentistry? These resources will answer many of the questions you may have about pursuing a career in dentistry and the process of applying to dental school.

One of the best places to begin learning about the process for becoming a dentist is the ADEA website.

The Decision to Pursue a Career in Dentistry

Dentistry is ranked #1 in The 100 Best Jobs for 2017 by U.S. News and World Report and has a projected employment growth of 16% through 2022 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Dentistry is a vital healthcare profession that specializes in oral health. Dentists prevent, diagnose and treat oral disease. In addition to general check-ups, dentists monitor the growth and development of the oral cavity and adjacent structures. As highly trained professionals, dentists prevent tooth decay, gum or gum related disease, and preform procedures such as filling a tooth, tooth extraction, and cleaning and polishing teeth.

Dentistry provides its practitioners the prospects of an income greatly above the national average. According to the ADA Health Policy Institute, in 2013 the average take-home salary for an independent private general practitioner who owned all or part of his or her practice was $192,400. During the same period, the average take-home salary for a dental specialist was $302,500 and 84% of active private-practice dentists owned their own practices, either as sole proprietors (70%) or as partners (14%).  In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau Labor of Statistics there will be 23,300 new dentist positions expected through 2022.

The level of education, academic standards and clinical training required to earn a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree, is on par with those of medical schools. After a four-year program leading to a DMD or DDS, dentists may specialize within the field of dentistry, begin private practice, or prepare for careers in public health, academic dentistry, or research.

There is only one dental school in Georgia:


In the United States, accredited dental schools award dentists either a DDS or DMD degree at the end of their training. The Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree and the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree are essentially the same degree. The difference is that it is up to each university which degree they would like to award. Students pursuing either degree receive the same education and have the same curriculum requirements designated by the American Dental Association. State licensing boards accept either degree as equivalent and anyone with a DMD or DDS is qualified to practice general dentistry.


You MUST become a general dentist before you can become a specialist.

Currently, there are nine specialties recognized in dentistry and all of these require additional training after receiving the DMD or DDS. These nine specialties are Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Endodontics, Periodontics, Pediatric Dentistry, Prosthodontics, and Dental Public Health. Only students graduating near the top of their dental school class will normally be accepted for residency training in these specialties. A student admitted to dental school cannot be assured that he/she will be able to progress to a specialty upon completion of the DMD or DDS degree.

Medicine vs Dentistry

Medicine and dentistry have a number of characteristics in common and a number of differences. Many pre-professional students would be equally acceptable in medical or dental school and equally successful in practice in either profession. The requirements for admission to dental school are about the same a medical school. When deciding between pre-med and pre-dent certain differences should be noted. A dentist is typically not involved in the treatment of patients in life or death situations, except for oral surgeons who often treat accident victims who sustain injuries to the head and mouth, which may be fatal. Most dentists are routinely concerned with preventative treatments and the maintenance of good oral health. This usually involves much less stressful situations than the treatment of trauma cases. A physician usually treats a person who is sick or injured and by prescribing certain drugs or treatments. In preventative or restorative treatments such as those typically done by a dentist, a patient in good health is subjected to treatments that are sometimes painful, such as drilling or extracting a tooth.  Another difference between dentistry and many kinds of medical practice is that dentistry does not usually make as many demands on the free time of its practitioners as is commonly found in medicine. In such medical specialties as pediatrics, obstetrics and many areas of surgery, physicians are typically on call a regular basis nights and weekends.