Dentistry

Dentistry offers a variety of career choices that include family dentistry, dental research, academic appointments, and specialty fields such as oral surgery, orthodontics, and periodontics. Completion of the degree requires four years, and dentists are usually able to begin practice directly upon completion of the program. Specialists may require additional training. During the first two years of dental school students take biology courses that focus on anatomy, morphology, physiology, and the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. The last two years primarily involve clinical training with rotations in different specialty areas. Applicants are assessed using the results from the Dental Admission Test (DAT), their undergraduate grade point average, letters of recommendation, success in interviews, and extracurricular activities. When preparing for any professional program, your primary focus as an undergraduate should be on completing all requirements for applying to dental school, excelling at academics, and preparing to take the DAT.

What are the minimum course requirements for dentistry?

Course requirements are not standardized, but are generally similar to those for pre-med students. As a general rule, most dental schools require:

  • two years of chemistry (including one year of organic)
  • two years of biology
  • one year of physics

In addition, math 191 (calculus I) is recommended.

Must pre-dental students major in the natural sciences?

No. Pre-dental students may major in any discipline so long as they complete the minimal course requirements outlined above. In reality, most students who are beginning their first year of dental school are science majors and a majority of these (64%) are biology majors. Completion of an undergraduate degree is not required; however, students who have only completed the minimal requirements are less likely to be accepted than students who have completed a four-year degree in the sciences.

What are the advantages of majoring in biology?

The Cell and Molecular Biology concentration provides two major advantages. First, you will be well prepared to take the DAT. The DAT contains a natural science section that tests your general knowledge of biology, chemistry, and physics as well as sections that assess your reading ability and quantitative and analytical skills. The Cell and Molecular concentration provides a very strong grounding in both chemistry and biology, which are the two major components of the natural sciences section. With respect to chemistry you will take 5 semesters of course work that includes biochemistry. You will also be exposed to additional biochemistry that is directly relevant to dentistry in courses such as cell biology, microbiology, and genetics. A second advantage is that you will take an array of upper division biology courses (such as physiology, cell biology, genetics, and microbiology) that will prepare you for the first two years of basic science coursework in dental school.

What is the best way to prepare for the DAT?

Study a lot. The best strategies are using study guides, reviewing course material from your notes, and reading critical chapters from textbooks from the science courses that you completed. Plan to spend at least 1-2 months studying intensively for the DAT. If possible, keep the textbooks used in your biology, chemistry and physics courses so that you will have them to prepare for the science sections of the test. Knowing a lot of facts is essential, but doing well on the test also requires the ability to answer question quickly. Study guides with sample tests are helpful in exposing you to the types of questions that you will encounter. Being familiar with the types of questions to expect will increase your ability to derive answers quickly and reduce anxiety levels.

When should I take the DAT?

Plan to take the DAT after you have completed the minimum requirements for coursework (two years of chemistry, physics, etc.). The DAT is taken on-line, and consequently the test is available year-round. Contact the DAT to schedule tests. Most students take the DAT during their junior year, but this may be a problem if you have heavy course loads or work obligations. Another option is to take the exam the summer after completing your junior year so that you can spend the summer preparing for the exam.

How important is my grade point average?

Your grade point average is an important criterion for evaluation. It is critical that you do well from the onset, and that you learn to develop good study skills during your freshman year. Most dental schools do not consider applicants with a grade point average less than 3.0, and those who are accepted typically have grade point averages greater than 3.2-3.4. Your advisors can provide helpful suggestions on developing good study habitats beyond the obvious of attending every lecture and taking copious notes.

How important is dental experience prior to applying?

It is strongly recommended that you have hands-on experience with the dentistry profession prior to applying. Most universities with dental programs provide opportunities for participating in clinics. Opportunities may also exist at regional health facilities or private practices. Plan to spend a minimum of 20 hours observing in a variety of settings and document the hours spent at each.

How important are personal interviews?

Most dental schools require a personal interview as part of the admissions process. Good interviewing skills are not innate, so you should work on developing your verbal skills. For example, you may want to take a speech class as an elective. You may also want to attend career days or other functions where you can gain experience in interviews. It is also a good idea to practice interviews with a friend or member of the pre-professional club on campus. Most interviewers are less concerned with your opinions than with your ability to communicate effectively. They are also assessing your ability to interact in a calm, relaxed, and professional way with future patients and colleagues.

Any suggestions about letters of recommendation?

Most dental schools require letters of recommendation (usually 3) from university professors or other individuals who are qualified to evaluate your abilities. You may gather letters individually, or obtain one committee letter from the Pre-Health Professions Advisory Committee. Committee letters may be seen as carrying more weight than letters from individuals. Ask your advisor or one of the premed committee members to begin this process. The better the faculty members know you, the better the letter of recommendation they can provide, so talk to your professors. Fortunately, small classes and close relationships between faculty and students at UNC Asheville will make it relatively easy for you to get to know professors. Before asking an individual for a letter of recommendation, come prepared with a summary of your accomplishments, your coursework and grades, and other information that can be used to facilitate writing a letter. Have forms filled out and signed and pre-addressed envelopes if needed.

Should I engage in college and extracurricular activities?

These activities provide a way of distinguishing your application from the rest. Because so many dental school applicants are exceptional, your chances of getting admitted may be enhanced by engaging in relevant college and extracurricular activities. Examples include volunteering or working in health clinics or medical centers, getting involved in undergraduate research, or being an active member of the pre-professional club.

What will I do if I do not get accepted to dental school?

Acceptance rates for dental schools are generally higher than those for medical school, but many well qualified students are still declined admission. It is wise to consider other career or educational alternatives. In particular, you should give much thought to your major. If you do not get into dental school, then your alternate career pathways will be limited by your choice of major. By majoring in the subject you are most passionate about, you will be assured of having meaningful and desirable alternatives if you are not accepted to dental school.