Roadmap to US Dental School for Foreign Trained Dentists
There has never been a better time to be a dentist in the United States. And, with this comes increasing opportunities for foreign trained dentists to earn a license to practice in the US.
There are many reasons for this.
Increasing overall demand for dentists.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 19 percent job growth for dentists (from 2016-2026), which is much faster than average across all occupations. Dentist jobs are growing because of an aging population and new research linking oral and overall health as reasons for the increased demand for dental care.
Shortage of dentists where they are most needed.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) at the end of 2018 identified 5,700+ dental health professional shortage areas. HRSA considers an area underserved if a population falls below the minimum standard of one dentist per 5,000 people. HRSA estimates the country would need more than 10 thousand new dentists to eliminate the designations.
Increasing population diversity.
Also, the U.S. population is growing ever more diverse and there is increasing need for dentists have cultural competency where the shortages of dental providers are greatest. Many people in these areas have limited English proficiency and often have poorer health, creating the need for health care practitioners with multilingual skills.
How to become eligible to practice dentistry in the US
A dental license gives you the legal right to practice independently as a general dentist in the state you are applying to obtain a license in. Though requirements vary from state to state, all applicants for dental licensure must meet three basic requirements:
- An education requirement
- A written examination requirement
- A clinical examination requirement
Advanced training programs for foreign trained dentists
One of the best options to meet these requirements and become eligible for licensure is to complete a CODA accredited program offered by a U.S. dental school. Graduates of DDS or DMD programs are able to take state or regional board examinations to be eligible for dental licensure and practice within the U.S. Many US dental schools offer a condensed version of their program for foreign trained dentists, called advanced training programs.
Advanced training (or advanced standing) programs prepare foreign-trained dentists to gain licensure in the US and be able to practice in any state. You will earn an American Dental degree (DDS/DMD) through a condensed timeframe, usually 2 to 3 years. Advanced Training Programs are the only option that would make a foreign-trained dentist eligible for licensure in any state in the US (after satisfying the necessary licensure requirements).
Steps to Obtain a US License to Practice Dentistry
Here are the general steps that foreign trained dentists should follow to obtain a license to practice as a general dentist in the US.
Step 1: ECE / WES evaluation
Most US dental schools will require you to get your dental diploma and transcripts evaluated by one of the accredited evaluation institutes (ECE: Educational Credential Evaluators (https://www.ece.org) or WES: World Education Services(https://www.wes.org/).
A credential evaluation compares academic and professional degrees earned in one country to academic and professional degrees earned in another.
Note: UIC only accepts ECE course-by-course evaluations.
If your transcripts and diploma were issued in a language other than English, you will have to translate them. It is recommended that you find a translator that is a member of the American Translators Association.
Step 2: Prepare for the National Board of Dental Examination (NBDE)
The National Board Dental Examination (NBDE) is the United States national dental examination for students and professionals in dentistry. It is required for licensure in the United States and may also be required when applying for postgraduate studies in dental specialties after completing a dental degree. Foreign-trained dentists also must take the NBDE in order to earn admission into advanced standing programs in US dental schools.
The purpose of the exam is to assist state boards in determining your qualifications to practice dentistry in those states. The examination assesses your ability to understand fundamental concepts in biomedical, dental, and dental hygiene sciences as well as your ability to apply them in a problem-solving context, such as a patient case.
Each state sets its own licensure requirements. However, all licensing boards use the National Board Dental Examinations to satisfy a major portion of their written requirements.
The NBDE consists of two parts, NBDE I and NBDE II. Both parts are developed and administered by the ADA’s Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations; however the exams are actually conducted by regional or state examining boards. You must pass both exams before you can take your regional licensing exam.
Here’s a summary breakdown of what each exam covers. Visit ADA’s NBDE guide for more details on taking the exams.
NBDE I consists of 400 multiple-choice questions emphasizing basic sciences:
- Human Anatomy, Embryology, and Histology
- Biochemistry and Physiology
- Microbiology and Pathology
- Dental Anatomy and Occlusion.
NBDE II requires two days and focuses on clinical dental topics:
- Operative Dentistry
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery/Pain Control
- Oral Diagnosis
- Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry
- Patient Management, including Behavioral Science, Dental Public Health and Occupational Safety
Here are some helpful resources to prepare for the NBDE.
- ASDA Study Resources (list)
- American Student Dental Association (ASDA) sells reprints of previously released exams as study guides for students in their online store.
Also, consider using these study materials that UIC dental students have found useful.
- Crack the NBDE – great resource for practice testing.
- Dental decks – a multimedia software tool that uses flashcards to help you learn.
- Exam Master – an interactive online test preparation tool with useful assessment features that help you focus learning where most needed.
- First Aid Q&A for NBDE (book) – study guide available in print and electronic versions (available on Amazon).
- Kaplan NBDE prep – courses feature expert instruction in an on-demand format with assessments.
- Mosby’s Review for the NBDE (book) - study guide available in print and electronic versions (available on Amazon).
- Kaplan High-Yield (dentEssentials) - study guide available in print (available on Amazon).
Step 3: Take the NBDE board examinations
First, visit ADA’s NBDE general information guide for step-by-step instructions on taking the exams.
Get a DENTPIN. Applications for the NBDE examination programs are processed through the American Dental Association's (ADA) Department of Testing Services. The first step in the application process is getting a DENTPIN, a unique personal identifier you will use in taking the exam.
Schedule to take the exam: You will then need to schedule an appointment to take the exam at a Prometric testing center in your area.
Step 4: Take the TOEFL exam
The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). The TOEFL is an online test administered by ETS that measures your ability to use and understand English at the university level. Most US dental schools require that you demonstrate your English language proficiency by taking the TOEFL. International dental graduates must demonstrate proficiency in English.
Tips to prepare for the TOEFL exam:
- Get to know the exam. We recommend first familiarizing yourself with the TOEFL format. Check out the official TOEFL website to find information on the test format, find answers to your questions and to locate your testing centers. Another great resource for TOEFL exam prep is Magoosh. This site offers a complete TOEFL course, including video lessons, practice questions, study schedules and support from teachers. It’s a terrific resource for practicing the TOEFL exam.
- Practice reading non-technical English. The TOEFL exam’s reading section will have you read passages and answer questions related to them. The topics are all in non-technical English that everyone can understand. To prepare for this, commit to reading some every day without distractions. Then, reflect back on what you have ready to improve your understanding.
- Take an English course. For a more structured, in-depth study method, considering enrolling in a college level English course at your local community college.
- Hire a tutor. If your learning style is better suited to a more personalized approach, a tutor may be a good choice. HeyTutor.com is an online marketplace where you can hire a tutor and read reviews from those who have used them.
Step 5: Improve your competitiveness as an applicant
One thing to remember about US dental schools is how competitive they are. Many (including UIC) have a selective application process for limited placements.
One of the best ways to improve your competitiveness is to gain dental experience in the United States.
Gaining dental experience in the U.S. will help you to be better educated about the advancements in dentistry. Your experience in the dental field will facilitate your transition to becoming a dental student. Most foreign-trained dentists gain experience as dental assistant. Working as a dental assistant will allow you to get valuable dental experience, but it will also allow you to network with U.S. dentists. Many schools recommend that you submit a letter of recommendation from a U.S. dentist that you have worked with.
- Extracurricular activities/Volunteer Service. Applicants are expected to have obtained a variety of experiences, including community service and volunteer work in the U.S.The experiences do not have to be specifically dentistry related, but these experiences may be helpful to one’s own understanding of selfless giving, compassion for others and exposure to diverse populations. Your involvement in extracurricular activities/volunteer service will differentiate you from other prospective students.
- Expand your experience. US dental schools like to see applicants who have improved themselves, and their communities in a number of ways by developing professional skills, volunteering, and getting involved in extracurricular activities.
Here are few additional ways to expand your experience:
- Enhance your leadership, diversity exposure, community service and volunteer experiences: UIC encourages applicants to be exposed to community service especially in underserved areas.
- Community service experience also allows you to learn more about the diversity of the US culture.
- Become involved in organized dentistry (e.g. ISDS, CDS, ADA, IAGD).
- Gain exposure to research: While this is not required, additional knowledge in the science field further enhances a student’s understanding of advancements in the field. Research does not have to be in dentistry/oral health.
Be sure to emphasize any of the following that can help differentiate you among other candidates.
- Master’s degree in the U.S.
- Additional certifications in the Dental field (e.g. Expanded Duty Dental Assistant)
- Bench Test Preparatory Course
- Externship/Observerships offered in Dental schools
- Continuing dental education courses.
Step 6: Apply to a US dental school program
As mentioned, advanced training (or advanced standing) programs are a great option because they prepare foreign-trained dentists to gain licensure in the US and be able to practice in any state. You will earn an American Dental degree (DDS/DMD) through a condensed timeframe, usually 2 to 3 years. Advanced Training Programs are the only option that would make a foreign-trained dentist eligible for licensure in any state in the US (after satisfying the necessary licensure requirements).
- Learn more about the UIC Doctor of Dental Medicine Advanced Standing Program (DMD-AS).
Common application requirements include above average academic credentials, letters of recommendation, a personal interview and statement of interest that demonstrate passion and communication skills.
- Learn more about the application requirements of the UIC Doctor of Dental Medicine Advanced Standing Program (DMD-AS).
Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful in as you plan your journey to become a U.S. licensed dentist.
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