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How to Become a Dentist in Pennsylvania

Dental careers are growing across the U.S. and trained and qualified professionals can earn a great living while helping others. Dentists help patients through the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of oral health conditions.

Becoming a dentist requires the completion of a dental degree program, which is limited in the U.S. Admissions are competitive, so be sure you understand the requirements and meet or exceed them before applying to one of Pennsylvania’s programs.

Pennsylvania Requirements for Dentists

To be a dentist in the state, you must hold a license from the Pennsylvania State Board of Dentistry. Licensing requires the completion of an accredited dental degree program. Applicants must also submit:

  • Dental school transcripts
  • Dental Board exam scores
  • Evidence of experience, which for most students is the completion of a degree program
  • A $200 application fee

To renew their license, dentists must complete 30 hours of continuing education credits every two years.

Board Exams Required for Licensing

Pennsylvania requires passing scores on essential licensing exams. You must complete and pass the National Board Dental Examination, which is a written test. You must also pass a regional clinical exam. Pennsylvania’s Board of Dentistry accepts the following:

  • North East Regional Board of Dental Examiners
  • Southern Regional Testing Agency
  • Western Regional Examining Board
  • Central Regional Dental Testing Service
  • Council of Interstate Testing Agencies

Pennsylvania Dental Programs

A few schools in Pennsylvania have accredited dental programs and offer D.M.D. (Doctor of Dental Medicine) degrees. Other schools partner with these dental programs to provide students with a dual-degree option. 

Temple University, Philadelphia

Temple’s Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry has trained dentists for over 150 years. The school’s D.M.D. program is among the most respected in the country, so admissions are competitive, with only 140 students accepted from a pool of more than 2,500 applicants.

Applicants must submit transcripts and show evidence of completion of required prerequisite courses, Dental Admissions Test (DAT) scores, and two letters of recommendation. Those qualified will go through an interview process.

Temple also offers several graduate certificates for D.M.D. holders to advance their careers. The Advanced Education General Dentistry Certificate is a 12-month program to improve clinical competency. The Dental Public Health Certificate prepares dentists for community initiatives and programs, such as government-sponsored programs. Other certificates include orthodontics, endodontics, and periodontics.

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Penn’s School of Dental Medicine offers several programs. The D.M.D. program offers dual-degree options, clinical experiences, community outreach opportunities, a special needs clinic, and research opportunities. There are no GPA, minimum test score, or shadowing hour requirements, but admissions are competitive, so doing more is recommended.

The school also offers several graduate programs, including specialty areas like endodontics, orthodontics and periodontics. They offer residencies in oral and maxillofacial surgery and pediatric dentistry.

Students can also choose among several advanced graduate degree programs, including the Doctor of Science in Dentistry. This particular program educates dentists for academic research careers. Other choices include master’s degrees in oral health sciences or oral biology.

Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, Erie (LECOM)

LECOM offers an alternative to traditional dental schools. As a school of osteopathic medicine, it provides a similarly rigorous program that prepares graduates to work as dentists. The osteopathic philosophy of care focuses on prevention, patient-centered care, and education.

LECOM’s D.M.D. program uses a mentorship approach, small classes, and self-directed learning. As part of this program, students participate in clinical experiences during their third and fourth years. Admission requirements include completion of prerequisite courses and meeting requisite DAT scores. The school extends additional consideration to applicants for completing extra coursework and participating in job shadowing.

Seton Hill University, Greensburg

Seton Hill does not have a dental school, but it has a partnership with LECOM allowing students to earn a D.M.D. LECOM dedicates a certain number of seats for qualified Seton Hill graduates. Students can apply and reserve one of those spots upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biology or biochemistry.

Students accepted to the program spend four years earning their bachelor’s degree and then move directly to the LECOM program. Graduates must meet all requirements to keep their promised position in dental school.

Lehigh University, Bethlehem

Another partnership exists between Lehigh and the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Their accelerated program allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree and a D.M.D. over seven years.

Students spend three years at Lehigh before moving to Penn’s dental school, as long as they meet all requirements. Prospective students apply to Lehigh and the program. Admissions requirements include SAT or ACT scores, academic achievement, signs of maturity, and interest in dentistry and medicine.

Opportunities for Pennsylvania Dentists

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), careers for dentists are growing at a rate of 8%. The BLS also reports that dentists across the U.S. earn, on average, $163,220 per year. Dentistry is a growing, stable, and lucrative career if you have the appropriate credentials.

Opportunities are good across the country, but Pennsylvania is seeing even more robust growth than the national average. According to Projections Central, dentist positions within the state should increase by 11% between 2020 and 2030. Salaries in Pennsylvania are lower in this field than the U.S. average but still impressive, with $130,280 as the average annual salary. The top 10% of dentists in the state earn more than $208,000 annually.

With substantial growth expected to continue within the field, finding work as a dentist in Pennsylvania should be simple. Dentists are needed everywhere, from rural areas to suburbs, but most opportunities are available in more densely populated areas: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, and Erie.

Dentists often work in private practices and as small business owners, but there are other options too. Dentists can work in hospitals, government agencies, community clinics, universities, and dental schools. They can specialize in general dentistry or work in academics, either teaching or researching.

If you are interested in health care, enjoy working with and helping people, and have a solid academic background in science, consider becoming a dentist in Pennsylvania. It is a rewarding career that offers a substantial income.

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