Dentists (DDS and DMD) are healthcare professionals who examine the head, neck, and oral cavity to identify and diagnose conditions that influence oral and systemic health. Dentists diagnose and treat diseases, restore or replace damaged teeth, perform corrective surgery, reduce pain and discomfort, and provide instruction on oral health. Most dentists (~90%) deliver oral health care through private practice; approximately 10% of dentists deliver care in other clinical settings, teach in dental education, conduct research, and/or work in public policy. Some dentists (~20%) specialize in fields like endodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics, periodontics, prosthodontics or dental public health.
Choosing a Major
Pre-dental students typically obtain a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree while completing the requirements for admission to dental school. Dental schools do not require or prefer a particular undergraduate major, but rather welcome students whose intellectual curiosity leads them to a wide variety of disciplines. Dental schools recognize the importance of a strong foundation in the natural sciences – biology, chemistry, physics – as well as behavioral sciences and statistics. Thus, applicants must complete course requirements and demonstrate proficiency in the sciences as evidenced by the science GPA, overall GPA, and scores on the DAT.
Admissions requirements for the 65 US and 10 Canadian dental schools are found in the ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools, which is published annually by the American Dental Education Association (ADEA). Pre-dental students must explore school-specific admissions information because there is considerable variability among dental schools regarding required and recommended coursework. Up-to-date, reliable information is available at the ADEA website and their career building and social networking site, GoDental.
Minimum requirements for admission to dental school can be met at JMU by completing the following courses:
- BIO 140: Foundations of Biology I (4 credit hours)
- BIO 150: Foundations of Biology II (4 credit hours)
- CHEM 131/132 and 131L/132L: General Chemistry I & II (8 credit hours)
- CHEM 241/242 and 242L: Organic Chemistry I & II (8 credit hours)
- CHEM 361: Biochemistry I (3 credit hours)
- PHYS 140/150 and 140L/150L: College Physics I & II (8 credit hours)
- MATH 220: Elementary Statistics (3 credits)
- Calculus (e.g. MATH 205, 231, 233, or 235; 3-4 credits)
Students are strongly encouraged to take a course in Psychology (PSYC 101 or 160) as well as additional coursework in Anatomy (BIO 290 or 320), Physiology (BIO 370), Microbiology (BIO 380), and cell biology.
Admissions Criteria and Academic Record
Dental admissions committees assess the biographical information provided by the applicant and the academic record from the undergraduate school(s) attended. Of particular importance are grade point averages (GPA), results from the Dental Admission Test (DAT), dentistry-related experience and service activities, letters of evaluation, and interviews. Academic performance records encompass cumulative and science GPAs, subjects and credit hours completed, rigor of the baccalaureate program, as well as upward trends in performance (e.g. was an average freshman year followed by improvement during the sophomore and junior years? was the level of performance relatively constant or irregular?) A strong undergraduate academic record is considered evidence of both ability and motivation. If a student has both high aptitude and motivation, a competitive academic record is expected!
The Dental Admissions Test (DAT) is required for admission to all dental schools ( www.ada.org/dat ). The DAT is conducted by the American Dental Association (ADA) and is administered at Prometric Test Centers at locations throughout the US, US Virgin Islands and Canada. The DAT is a four-part multiple choice test that measures reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning, perceptual ability, and aptitude in science disciplines (biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry). The DAT can be taken any day of the year, but it is recommended that it be taken in late spring or early summer of the application year. If a student needs to re-take the DAT, re-examination can be scheduled a minimum of 90 days following the previous attempt.
Candidates for the DAT should have completed pre-requisite courses in biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry. If the student’s goal is to obtain an undergraduate degree in four years and matriculate into dental school upon graduation (“direct-entry” applicant), the DAT and the AADSAS application need to be completed during the summer following the third year.
Students are encouraged to seek volunteer or employment opportunities in dentistry. Examples include shadowing a dentist, completing an internship program, or volunteering in a community health clinic. Pre-health enrichment programs (explorehealthcareers.org or smdep.org) can also help a student decide if a career in dentistry is a good fit! Students are encouraged to join a pre-dental society, and to participate in recruitment fairs and open houses to learn about dentistry and dental schools. Shadowing dentist(s) and keeping a log documenting the hours is recommended, for example the VCU School of Dentistry requires that applicants complete 150 documented hours of shadowing.
Letters of Recommendation or Evaluation
All dental schools require submission of letters of evaluation as part of the application. JMU students and alumni are encouraged to utilize the PPH Evaluation Service to assemble a packet of evaluation letters that will fulfill the requirements of all U.S. dental schools. For information on the PPH Evaluation Service, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Madison Advising Peers will return to the Pre-Professional Health office to assist students in Fall semester 2016!
Heather Patterson primarily works with first and second-year PPH students. Dr. Babcock primarily works with upper-level students whom are preparing for the application process. To schedule a meeting with either, call 540-568-6652, email email@example.com, or visit PPH Advising in Roop Hall, G24.