Dentists provide oral health services to adults and children. Some dentists choose to study a subspecialty, such as orthodontics. Most dentists obtain an undergraduate degree before completing a 4-year dental program.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 85% of dental students obtain a bachelor's degree prior to entering dental school (www.bls.gov). While no specific undergraduate degree is required, students commonly take science courses in biology, anatomy, chemistry and microbiology.
Aspiring dentists enroll in a dental school accredited by the American Dental Association. Dental colleges offer either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). Prospective students must submit Dental Admission Test (DAT) scores with their application.
DDS degree programs cover four years of in-class, pre-clinical and clinical instruction. The first two years are devoted to lab and class instruction. Courses may include oral pathology, dental diagnosis and dental treatment techniques. In the last two years, students typically complete a dental rotation externship, which is usually conducted in dental clinics and allow students to treat patients under supervision.
In addition to general dentistry, dental schools typically offer specialized areas of study, such as oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics or pediatric dentistry.These postgraduate programs generally take an additional 2-6 years to complete, depending on the chose specialty, and may include a residency.
The American Dental Education Association (ADEA) has released a Statement on Professionalism in Dental Education for the academic dental community. Aligned with existing codes of ethics and conduct within the dental education and dental practice communities, the Statement helps to define expectations for professional behavior in dental education institutions. It includes the values and behaviors that should guide students as they enter the dental and allied dental professions and faculty and administrators as they continuously improve their educational programs.
"The ADEA Statement on Professionalism in Dental Education reflects ADEA's commitment to promoting ethical behavior throughout the dental education community," said ADEA President Ronald J. Hunt, D.D.S. "The guidelines will help institutions develop and enhance their own codes, based upon a shared understanding of professionalism and academic integrity."
Promoting ethical behavior throughout education and practice is among the most important challenges facing dental education today. In March 2008, the ADEA House of Delegates created an ADEA Task Force on Professionalism in Dental Education and charged it with the development of an ADEA Statement on Professionalism in Dental Education. The Task Force, comprised of members of all seven ADEA Councils, worked to identify and clarify those personal and institutional values and behaviors that support academic integrity and professionalism in dental education and are aligned with the existing values and codes of the dental, allied dental, and higher education professions. Those values are competence, fairness, integrity, responsibility, respect, and service-mindedness. It was also recommended that "real-life applications" of these values be developed so the concept of professionalism is more easily understood and applied by individuals and institutions.