The answers to your first two questions are a lot and usually. The questions were “How much does dental school cost?” and “Is it worth it?” weren’t they? Dental school is a good choice from a financial stand point. It is expensive, but you generally make enough money in your practice to offset and surpass your school tuition.
Low end tuition is about $15,000 a year plus fees and room and board. This would be a state school in your own state. At Harvard the cost is more than double, $37,000 a year. Dental programs last between 3 and 4 years. You will almost certainly need financial aid and loans with interest. (If you don’t, why would you want to go to dental school, anyway?) Paying them back will take big chunk out your pay check for awhile. Do the math. Can you afford it?
You may have thought you were through with standardized tests once the SAT was over, but no. Every profession has its own test that you must pass before you can enter a program in this case the Dental Admissions Test or DAT. It tests knowledge of biology and chemistry, perception and dexterity and mathematical reasoning, including algebra and trigonometry. Even if you commonly breeze through such tests you will have to study for this one – hard. If you tend to do poorly on tests, you may need extra tutoring and extra time. Do not register for the test until a professor or tutor tells you that you are ready. There are tutors, online helps and practice tests available. Registration fee is $175.
The financial picture is pretty straightforward. What about academics? Most schools look for physics, chemistry, biology, trigonometry and English in undergraduate work as well as a variety of electives. Surprisingly, not all demand a bachelor’s degree. If you have taken the right courses, an associate degree will do. The average school asks for at least a 3.5 GPA and a 17 or higher (out of thirty) on the DAT. Harvard asks for 3.9 and 22 and smaller schools have been known to accept lower scores from students who show unusual aptitude for dentistry.
But how do you know if you will be a good dentist? First and foremost you must like people. A doctor may see a patient for five minutes. A dentist is at the patient’s side constantly. How is your “chairside” manner? You will have to deal with people who are frightened and in pain. An even temper and a calm demeanor are essential qualities.
Dentists must be physically suited for the job as well. Good eyesight, hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity are a must. Shaky hands need not apply. (Maybe it’s the coffee. Try cutting back.) You will have time to hone these skills in school, but you can’t learn them from scratch.
The dental field is quite a varied one. Most people picture one or two dentists in the small practice they run, or a huge clinic where turnover is high and they are forever crying, Next! But if neither of these is your cup of tea, look further. If you’re not much of a business manager you might work for a Dental HMO. The salaries are pretty good; and there is no overhead, upkeep or bookkeeping. You might also consider working part-time for an insurance company processing claims and helping to spot fraud.
An advanced degree can take you even further. Orthodontists, endodontists (specializing root canal surgery), prosthodontists (specializing reconstructive jaw surgery and bridgework) and pediatric dentists all studied for another two or three years in order to become experts in these fields. The financial gains are high and the non-monetary rewards of helping people get well, sometimes form serious diseases are greater still. Dentists also teach, do research for universities or the government on oral diseases, and work in public health.
And for those with equal parts of altruism and adventure in their character, private agencies send dentists out to third world countries to perform needed dentistry and to teach dentistry to members of the native population. Little money here and conditions can be primitive, but as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it rates high on the personal satisfaction scale.
The skills needed for dentistry are very specific and you either have them or you don’t. But if you do this can be a rewarding career in every sense of the word.