Academic preparation for Dental School
Although requirements vary by school, here is a basic list of requirements that will cover most schools. Please check individual dental school websites (there are 66 school in total) for specific requirements about upper level electives, math requirements, lab requirements and AP rules.
- One year General Chemistry + lab
- One year Organic Chemistry + lab
- One year Biology + lab
- One year Physics + lab
- 2 Math courses, preferably one in calculus and one statistics or biostatistics
- 2 courses in English
- 1 course in Biochemistry (normally lab not required)
- 2 upper level biology electives such as cell biology, microbiology, or physiology. (Check schools for specifics)
Although schools have their own set of recommendations, here is an excerpt from UNC Chapel Hill School of Dentistry about their recommendation on upper level science electives:
Prospective dental students should consider courses in molecular biology, math, statistics, business, writing skills, computer science, sculpture and art. Students are encouraged to take as many courses as possible in social science, history, literature, economics, philosophy and psychology.
Unlike medical schools, dental schools want to see at least 100 DEMONSTRATED (documented) HOURS of shadowing and/or volunteering in a dental setting. Start keeping track now. Keep a spreadsheet that tracks all of your experiences (dental, volunteer, work, research), total number of hours worked, and make note of the contact information of your supervisor in case the dental school wants to follow up. This information will come in handy as you apply to summer programs, ask for recommendations and eventually apply to dental school. Here is an example of how the University of Michigan School of Dentistry views the experiences section:
It is expected that candidates will exhibit a confirmed interest and motivation in a dental career by participating in career-related activities such as job shadowing, community service and other volunteer opportunities. Applicants are required to demonstrate, at the time of application, a minimum of 100 hours of dental shadowing and/or volunteering. Applicants without this minimum number of hours may not be reviewed or considered for interview. Candidates who show a demonstrated interest in addressing health disparities or commitment to service and care for underserved communities are desirable.
When you apply to dental schools, you will have to identify up to six “most important experiences” and four “most important achievements” so again, start keeping track. Research experiences will most likely go under achievements.
The DAT 2017 Program Guide includes information on everything you need to know about the DAT from what's on the test to how to sign up and what you need to take with you on the day of testing.
The DAT includes 4 sections and will take about 4hrs 30 min to complete depending on breaks. The test is scored 1-30 (aim to get a 20+). The cost is $445. The topics are divided into 4 sections as follows:
1) Survey of the Natural Sciences (100 items) 90 minutes:
- 40 questions on Biology Include: Cell and Molecular Biology, Diversity of Life, Structure and Function of Systems, Developmental Biology, Genetics, Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior. Systems approach focusing on complex interactions within biological systems.
- 30 questions on General Chemistry Include: Stoichiometry and General Concepts, Gases, Liquids and Solids, Solutions, Acids and Bases, Chemical Equilibria, Thermodynamics and Thermochemistry, Chemical Kinetics, Oxidation-Reduction Reactions, Atomic and Molecular Structure, Periodic Properties, Nuclear Reactions, Laboratory.
- 30 questions on Organic Chemistry Include: Mechanisms, Chemical and Physical Properties of Molecules, Stereochemistry (structure evaluation), Nomenclature, Individual Reactions of the Major Functional Groups and Combinations of Reactions to Synthesize Compounds, Acid-Base Chemistry, Aromatics and Bonding.
2) Perceptual Ability (90 items) in 60 minutes: 1) apertures, 2) view recognition, 3) angle discrimination, 4) paper folding, 5) cube counting, and 6) 3D form development.
3) Reading Comprehension (50 items) in 60 minutes: Contains three reading passages on various scientific topics.
4) Quantitative Reasoning (40 items) in 45 minutes: Math problems, Applied Math problems, Data analysis, interpretation, and sufficiency; quantitative comparison; and probability and statistics.
Letters of Recommendation
Most schools are looking for at least 3 letters: 2 from basic science faculty that have taught you (not a researcher), 1 from a non-science faculty member who has taught you. You could add a research letter to this list along with a letter from a dentist since some schools require this. So to be safe, and cover all of your bases aim for 4 -5 total (2 science, 1 non-science, 1 dentist and if you have one, a researcher).
Make sure you are cultivating relationships with faculty as your academic career chugs along. Each semester aim to get to know at least 2 faculty well. By the time you apply, you will have 8-10 faculty to choose from to write you letters of support. When you need a letter of recommendation, plan ahead and be respectful of the faculty member's time. Create a packet for each faculty including a note/letter stating the deadline for submission, how to submit, and a draft of your dental school essay so they can see your motivation for this career path then request a meeting.
By creating a good impression, you will demonstrate your maturity, organizational skills and motivation for dentistry to the faculty that will hopefully say wonderful things about you. Make sure to write a handwritten thank you card, acknowledging their time and contribution to you application. Faculty often get bombarded with late recommendation requests from many students they don't even know. Don't be this student. Get to know your faculty. Keep in touch with them. Plan ahead. Be respectful. Be thankful and send a thank you note. A handwritten note goes a lot further than an electronic one.
Manual Dexterity Skill
Having the skill and ability to work with your hands in a confined space in a coordinated way is a skill all dentists require. You need to demonstrate to dental schools that you have been working consistently on good manual dexterity so the ADEA has suggested several activities that you can do to tune your fine motor skills:
- Creating 3-D artwork through jewelry-making, sculpting or ceramics
- Soap carving
- Learning to tie fishing knots
- Learning a musical instrument that requires extensive hand-eye coordination (e.g. piano, violin)
IU Bloomington's Health Professions and Prelaw Center summarizes this requirement in a succinct manner:
Dental school admissions committees expect that applicants have worked to develop these skills prior to admission. When you apply to dental school, you must be able to do more than say, "I'm good with my hands." You must be able to demonstrate to an admissions committee that you have systematically engaged in activities through which you have developed the necessary manual dexterity skills.
Great Dental links
Hear from Practicing Dentists:
How Dental School Works: A great article about the path to dentistry, tips along the way and suggestions on how to apply and survive dental school. It's written by a practicing dentist and he gives his account of his path to dental school from high school to early practice. He gives a realistic account of what motivation you need to be a dentist.