A dentist has a degree as either a doctor of dental surgery (D.D.S.) or a doctor of dental medicine (D.D.M.). Dentists examine and treat diseases, injuries, and malformations of teeth, gums, and mouth.  Dentists use many tools such as x-ray machines, drills, mirrors, probes, scalpels and much more to treat their patients. They also educate their patients on proper oral hygiene. Dentists are the major practitioners of dental care and have final responsibility for all dental services.


Dentistry is the health profession that maintains, improves, and corrects the health of the teeth and the supporting oral structures. Dental school curricula are generally four years in length, and admission to dental schools requires a minimum of three to four years of undergraduate college. Dental students interested in going into a dental specialty can expect to spend an additional two to six years training.

There are twelve different dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association:

  • Dental Anesthesiology – dentistry concerned with anesthesia during dental surgery
  • Dental Public Health – dentistry concerned with promoting dental health
  • Endodontics – dentistry dedicated to treating diseases of the dental pulp
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Radiology, and Surgery – dentistry specialties concerned with diseases, images, and surgery of the mouth, jaws, and face
  • Oral Medicine – dentistry concerned with medicine for oral health
  • Orofacial Pain – dentistry concerned with pain of jaw, mouth, face, head, and neck
  • Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics – dentistry concerned with straightening teeth
  • Pediatric Dentistry – dental care of children
  • Periodontics – dentistry that treats diseases of the gum
  • Prosthodontics – dentistry to make artificial teeth and dentures


High school students considering a profession in dentistry should enroll in chemistry, physics, biology, anatomy, and mathematics courses. All dental schools require a Bachelor’s Degree and the completion of prerequisite courses, which vary by school. No specific major is required for most dental school programs, however, most individuals who plan to apply to dental school major in a science field, such as biology or chemistry. In addition, the Dental School Acceptance Test (DAT) should be taken by college undergraduates planning to apply to dental school. Most dental school admission committees use these tests, GPA, and letters of recommendation when making admission selections. It is also important to consider job shadowing or participating in volunteer experiences while in college to have more understanding of the job and gain experience.


The dental school curriculum consists of basic science curriculum, pre-clinical courses, and clinical courses. Schools require that their students take classes like anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, local anesthesia, periodontology, and radiology. In addition, schools have a clinic where their own students practice their skills on manikins and models. In their second year, students may begin to work with patients under supervision.


LSU Health Sciences Center School of Dentistry
1100 Florida Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70119
Phone 504-619-8700 (general information)


All states require dentists to pass the license exam after graduation, before they can practice. The exam consists of written and practical portions.


After graduation from dental school, you need to become licensed in the state you want to practice. These requirements vary by each state, but most require passing a written and practical examination along with the completion of a degree from an accredited dental school.

Dentists usually work full time, however, some do work evening and weekends in order to accommodate their patients. Most work in offices. Earnings vary according to the number of years in practice, but the median annual wage of dentists in May of 2010 was $146,920.


American Dental Education Association
1400 K Street, NW, Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 289- 7201

American Dental Association
211 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60610-2678
(312) 440-2500