The road from high school graduation to the eventual practice of dentistry is a long one, filled with a vast array of educational and clinical experiences. The majority of today’s dentists have completed four years of college with the attainment of a bachelor’s degree, and then entered a four year course of study in dental school. After receiving the doctoral degree (D.D.S. or D.M.D., depending on the dental school), many dental graduates continue on with a hospital or clinic based general practice residency program. This residency , lasting one or two years, allows for the accumulation of a vast array of clinical experience and further education. New York State now requires one year in a qualified residency program for licensure for new graduates.
Once the residency program is completed, the majority of today’s dentists enter into general practice. However, education does not stop there. Most of us are very active in continuing education programs, in an effort to stay current with the latest advances in dental science and technology, so as to constantly offer our patients the best possible care. Again, the state requires minimum levels of continuing education credits in order to maintain a license to practice.
Most general practitioners are able to treat the majority of patients, with a wide variety of dental needs, in their own offices. However, there are instances when a patient will benefit from treatment by a specialist. Dental specialists (oral surgeons, orthodontists, endodontists, periodontists, pedodontists, and prosthodontists) undergo further post-doctoral training after dental school and general practice residency. This specialty education lasts from two to five years, and involves more intense research and clinical experience in the chosen field. Your general dentist will help you to determine if referral to a specialist is indicated for your particular situation.
One of the biggest factors affecting dental education is the cost. Graduates can be left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt which can take many years to repay. If someone is considering a career in dentistry, it pays to speak to some people in the field and gather as much information as possible at an early stage. College debt should be a topic of discussion at the high school stage.