How to Become a Dentist in Washington
If you live in the state of Washington, you’ve probably received dental care from a dentist who was educated at the University of Washington School of Dentistry (UWSOD) in Seattle. About 78% of Washington residents are served by alumni of UWSOD.
Founded in 1945, UWSOD offers a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree and post-doctorate degrees in periodontics, prosthodontics, oral pathology, endodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics and pediatric dentistry. Programs are accredited by the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).
Dental students have the opportunity to work at the school’s 30 outreach clinics throughout the state, along with special clinics for people with disabilities, autism and medical needs. The school’s Center for Pediatric Dentistry addresses the needs of infants and children, and a geriatric clinic serves low-income seniors.
Admission to UWSOD is competitive, and priority is given to Washington residents. To be competitive in your application, you should begin planning early.
Preparing to Apply
If you wish to become a dentist, the University of Washington School of Dentistry recommends that you prepare for your future career as soon as possible. Although your undergraduate studies can be in any field, you must take the prerequisite science courses. These include general and organic chemistry, biochemistry, physics, biology or zoology and microbiology. It would help if you also took social science and humanities classes for a well-rounded educational background.
Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA, offers a pre-dentistry program that can fulfill the prerequisite courses for the UWSOD and other dental schools. It is not a degree program but a set of courses offered in conjunction with the college major that you select.
You can attend any accredited university for your undergraduate degree and the prerequisite courses.
Community service is also an important factor in your application. Volunteering in your community can enhance your application. You may also want to ask a dentist if you can observe. You will need letters of recommendation to apply, so it can be beneficial to develop relationships with dental professionals.
Once a year, the UWSOD holds a pre-admissions workshop, and you can sign up for a dental school tour.
The UWSOD accepts applications a year in advance, beginning in mid-May. You should apply through the website of the American Dental Education Association’s Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (ADEA AADSAA). The deadline is November 1.
You will submit your scores from the Dental Admission Test (DAT) on the application. Scores between 19 and 21 are typical of those admitted to the program.
Beginning on December 1, the admissions committee begins notifying those who are accepted. If you are admitted, you will be asked to submit official transcripts of your college work and three letters of recommendation. You may also be required to submit an essay or personal statement of your goals.
The UWSOD receives more than 1,000 applications annually and admits 63 students to the DDS program.
At UWSOD, each year of the DDS program has required courses and a program objective.
- Year One—Foundations: Study the basics of dentistry
- Year Two—Pre-clinical: Take courses that simulate clinical skills
- Year Three—Clerkship: Learn specialized clinical skills
- Year Four—General Practice: Patient care in a clinical setting
The UWSOD regards dental health as part of a patient’s overall wellbeing. In addition to learning to diagnose and treat patients, you will study how oral health relates to human health and medical issues. You’ll also learn about diverse populations, patient education and preventative care.
As you complete your courses in the DDS degree program, you will have opportunities to learn dental procedures and techniques in a clinical environment.
- Clinical practice: In the Predoctoral Dental Teaching Clinic, you can provide preventative and restorative treatment under the supervision of licensed faculty dentists.
- Serving the underserved: After your first year, you can participate in the Rural and Underserved Opportunities Program (RUOP), a four-week summer program held in the university’s outreach clinics. Students in RUOP serve as dental assistants.
If you plan to make a career serving residents in remote areas or underserved areas, you may choose to join the Regional Initiatives in Dental Education (RIDE) program. This curriculum is designed to immerse dental students in rural locations for hands-on experience.
- Learning pediatric dentistry: The Center for Pediatric Dentistry serves the dental needs of children from birth to age 18. You can also learn how to provide specialized care for children with autism or Down syndrome.
- Expanding experience: You will participate in Fourth-Year Service Rotations during the fourth and final year of dental school. Working at a clinic located throughout the state of Washington, you will treat patients and work with a chairside assistant.
The UWSOD also has research opportunities for students. The Summer Research Fellowship (SURF) is open to fourth-year students. If you’re interested in research, you can also join the National Student Research Group.
State Requirements and Boards
After earning a DDS degree, you must obtain a license. The Washington State Department of Health handles licensing.
Specific license requirements can vary, depending on several factors, including educational and employment history and dental specialty. In general, you will need the following:
- Dental Jurisprudence Exam. This exam covers laws and regulations in Washington state. You must pass with a score of 100 percent.
- Board exams. You may submit passing scores for one of these exams:
- Integrated National Board Dental Examination
- National Board Examination Parts I and II
- Canadian National Dental Examining Board
You may also have to pass a qualifying clinical exam or present evidence of successful completion of clinical practice or residency.
As part of your application, you must submit fingerprints and undergo a criminal background check.
Opportunities after Graduation
The UWSOD offers several post-doctoral specializations, fellowships and residencies. You can enroll in a certificate program or earn a master’s degree in the following areas:
- Pediatric Dentistry
- Oral Biology
- Oral Medicine
You could also apply for an internship or externship in oral and maxillofacial surgery, oral radiology, prosthodontics, and periodontics.
Regular continuing education courses and webinars are open to all practicing dentists in the state of Washington.