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How Dental School Programs Work

Dental Schools

Aspiring U.S. dentists can choose among 58 dental schools in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. They may have to leave home, however: 18 states have no dental school [source: Schwartz].

All 58 dental schools are accredited -- but with varying degrees of accreditation. Within those schools, some programs, including some post-doctoral programs, may not be accredited. The American Dental Association's (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation reviews most accredited programs every seven years. It revisits oral and maxillofacial surgery programs every five years.

There are two levels of accreditation for established, fully operational dental programs:

  • Approval without reporting requirements. This is the highest level of accreditation. It means that a school or program is fully accredited and that it meets or exceeds all the basic requirements.
  • Approval with reporting requirements. A program with reporting requirements is accredited, but the commission has found it to have a weakness or problem in one or more areas. The program is given a certain amount of time to give a report showing that it has taken care of the problem and come up to standards. If it doesn't, it may lose its accreditation.

Programs in the planning stages or those that aren't in full swing yet may gain initial accreditation. Initial accreditation means that the first few visits showed that the program had the potential to become fully accredited. In 2010, the two newest dental schools in the U.S., Midwestern University in Glendale, Ariz., and Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif., had initial accreditation [source: ADA].

Some books and Web sites try to rank dental school programs. The ADA cautions against such rankings; the organization believes that different programs meet the needs of different aspiring dentists.

Once a student has made his or her choice, however, what is dental school actually like? Read on to find out.