Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Dental School Programs Work

Dental School Days

Most dental school programs last four academic years. At some schools, the first two years have a nine-month schedule, and the last two years have an 11-month schedule.

Typically, the first two years involve a lot of class work. Students will delve more deeply than they did in undergraduate school into such biology-related subjects as physiology, histology, pathology, anatomy, microbiology and biochemistry. Some classes may be designed to lay the groundwork for the clinical studies to come.

Some programs also offer ethics classes and courses designed to help future dentists deal with patients. Some also offer help in dealing with the business end of dentistry; that can be important because most dentists practice on their own rather than work for a partnership or a larger medical facility [source: BLS].

The third and fourth years in most dental programs are devoted largely to clinical studies. Students will begin to treat patients with a range of dental needs. Typically, these students will be working in dental clinics and supervised by licensed dentists.

The prize at the end of four years of dental school will be the degree. There are two basic dental degrees: the DDS, or Doctor of Dental Surgery; and the DMD, or Doctor of Dental Medicine.

What's the difference between the two degrees? None except the name. The ADA says that whether a student receives a DDS or a DMD, he or she has the same education. Dental programs granting both degrees follow the same curriculum requirements set forth by the ADA's Commission on Dental Accreditation. States treat both degrees the same when granting licenses to practice dentistry. Dentists with either degree can offer the same general dentistry services.

The only difference is that some universities prefer to call their degree a DDS while others favor the DMD [source: ADA].

Differences in what dentists can and cannot do come into play when those with the basic DDS or DMD pursue further education. To learn more about post-graduate dental education and specialization, keep reading.