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A family dentist helps patients with oral hygiene and general dental health. Family dentists see patients of all ages, often serving entire families. Family dentists provide services such as chloride treatments, regular tooth cleanings, and other preventative services. The educational route to becoming a family dentist is the same as that for becoming a general dentist. Sometimes, family dentists choose to pursue internships with family dentists, or even to join existing practice, but the only true difference in the required training is the specialty adopted once the dental education is complete.
The first step toward becoming a family dentist is to earn an undergraduate degree. Taking courses in biology and chemistry will provide the best preparation for a dental school program. Gaining admission into a dental program is highly competitive so individuals looking to become a family dentist must work very hard to maintain the highest possible grade point average.
While pursuing an undergraduate degree it is wise to join a dental mentoring program or to seek employment at a family dental office. As undergraduates, students cannot perform services on patients but being in the environment and gaining knowledge about how family dental practices operate can be beneficial to future study. Taking the time to gain outside knowledge about dentistry could also prove to be useful when applying to dental school programs.
In order to become a family dentist, individuals must complete a dental program. Prior to applying for dental school, students in some countries take the Dental Admission Test® (DAT®). The test is used to assess a prospective student’s academic capacity. Dental programs typically consider students' grade point averages, test scores, and letters of recommendation when making admissions decisions.
Dental school generally lasts between four and six years. Upon graduating from dental school, graduates earn the Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree. During the first several years of dental school, students typically focus on courses in dental science and health. Courses may cover pharmacology, oral pathology, and dental anesthesia. In the last portion of dental school students get clinical practice in real dental offices and hospitals, where they practice the diagnosis and treatment of patients, under the supervision of dental instructors.
Dentists must obtain licenses in order to practice professionally. Licensing requirements vary by location and additional certifications or examination may be required. Individuals who would like to become family dentists should first check the educational, certification, and licensing requirements in the region where they would like to work or open a family dental practice.
After all the educational, licensing, and certification requirements have been completed, dentists have the option to choose specialties. Dental specialties include cosmetic dentistry, general dentistry, and orthodontics. Specialties may require additional postdoctoral education; family dentists can generally begin to see patients after obtaining dental licenses.