So you’ve graduated from dental school – congratulations! Now you’re probably wondering what comes next in your dental career. Do you have to complete a residency program or can you start practicing dentistry right away?

This is an important question to consider as you plan the next steps after dental school.

The quick answer is: no, a residency is not required after graduating from dental school in order to practice general dentistry. However, completing a residency program can provide valuable advanced training and potentially open up more career opportunities.

Dental Licensure Requirements

State Licensure

In order to practice dentistry in the United States, dental school graduates must obtain a dental license from the state in which they intend to practice. Each state has its own specific requirements for licensure, but there are common elements that most states require.

One of the main requirements for state licensure is the successful completion of a dental residency program. Residencies are post-graduate training programs that provide dentists with additional clinical experience and specialized training in various dental specialties such as orthodontics, oral surgery, or pediatric dentistry.

These programs typically last for one to two years and are a valuable opportunity for dentists to gain practical skills and knowledge in their chosen field.

Additionally, states usually require dental school graduates to pass a written and clinical examination to demonstrate their competency in dentistry. The specific exams required vary by state, but the most common ones are the National Board Dental Examinations (NBDE) Part I and Part II, as well as a clinical examination administered by the state’s dental board.

It is important to note that some states may have additional requirements, such as completing a certain number of continuing education credits or obtaining malpractice insurance. Therefore, it is crucial for dental school graduates to thoroughly research the licensure requirements of the state in which they wish to practice.

National Boards

In addition to state licensure requirements, dental school graduates are also required to pass the National Board Dental Examinations (NBDE) in order to obtain their dental license. The NBDE is a comprehensive examination that assesses a dentist’s knowledge and understanding of the basic sciences and clinical dentistry.

The NBDE is divided into two parts: Part I and Part II. Part I assesses a dentist’s understanding of the basic biomedical sciences and dental anatomy, while Part II evaluates a dentist’s clinical knowledge and skills.

These examinations are administered by the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE) and are typically taken during dental school or shortly after graduation.

Passing the NBDE is a prerequisite for licensure in most states, and dental school graduates must achieve a minimum score on both parts of the examination to be eligible for licensure. The scores required may vary by state, so it is important for dental school graduates to check the specific requirements of the state in which they plan to practice.

For more information on dental licensure requirements and the National Board Dental Examinations, you can visit the American Dental Association (ADA) website.

Advantages of Completing a Dental Residency

Advanced Clinical Training

One of the major advantages of completing a dental residency after dental school is the opportunity for advanced clinical training. While dental school provides a solid foundation in dental theory and basic clinical skills, a residency program allows dentists to further refine their skills and gain hands-on experience in a supervised setting.

This additional training can help dentists become more confident and proficient in performing complex dental procedures.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), dental residents receive an average of 3,000 hours of clinical experience during their residency program. This extensive training can greatly enhance a dentist’s ability to provide high-quality dental care to their patients.

Additionally, residents often have the opportunity to work with a diverse patient population, further broadening their clinical skills and knowledge.


Another advantage of completing a dental residency is the opportunity for specialization. During a residency program, dentists have the chance to focus on a specific area of dentistry and gain expertise in that field.

This can open up new career opportunities and allow dentists to provide specialized care to their patients.

For example, a dentist who completes a residency in orthodontics can become an orthodontist and specialize in straightening teeth and correcting bite issues. Similarly, a residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery can lead to a career as a specialized oral surgeon.

By completing a residency, dentists can pursue their passion and develop a niche in the field of dentistry.

Better Job Prospects and Higher Income Potential

Completing a dental residency can also lead to better job prospects and higher income potential. Many employers, such as hospitals, dental clinics, and private practices, prefer to hire dentists who have completed a residency program.

This is because residency graduates are often seen as more competent and experienced, making them attractive candidates for employment.

According to the ADA, dentists who complete a residency program earn higher incomes compared to those who do not. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Dental Education found that dentists who completed a residency had a median annual income of $185,000, while those without a residency had a median income of $125,000.

This significant difference in income highlights the financial benefits of completing a residency.

Types of Dental Residency Programs

General Practice Residency (GPR)

A General Practice Residency (GPR) is a postgraduate training program for dentists who want to gain more experience and expand their skills in various areas of dentistry. This program typically lasts for one year and provides dentists with the opportunity to work in a hospital setting and treat a wide range of patients, including those with complex medical conditions.

GPR programs focus on enhancing the dentist’s knowledge and proficiency in areas such as oral surgery, emergency dental care, and management of medically compromised patients. Dentists who complete a GPR program often feel more confident in their abilities and are better equipped to handle challenging cases.

Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD)

The Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) program is another option for dentists looking to further their education and skills after dental school. This program typically lasts for one to two years and offers more comprehensive training in various aspects of general dentistry.

AEGD programs are designed to enhance the dentist’s clinical abilities and expose them to advanced techniques and procedures. Dentists in AEGD programs often have the opportunity to work in a dental clinic or hospital setting, where they can gain experience in treating diverse patient populations and complex cases.

This additional training can greatly benefit dentists who are interested in pursuing a career in private practice or those who wish to specialize in a specific area of dentistry.

Specialty Programs

For dentists who wish to specialize in a particular area of dentistry, there are various specialty residency programs available. These programs are typically longer in duration, ranging from two to six years, depending on the specialty.

Some of the common specialty areas include orthodontics, periodontics, endodontics, pediatric dentistry, and oral and maxillofacial surgery. Specialty residency programs provide dentists with in-depth training and knowledge in their chosen field, allowing them to become experts in diagnosing and treating specific dental conditions.

Dentists who complete a specialty residency program often go on to work in private practice or academic settings, where they can provide specialized care to patients.

It is important to note that the specific requirements and duration of residency programs may vary by country and institution. Dentists interested in pursuing a residency program should research and consult with dental schools or organizations to determine the best path for their career goals.

Application Process and Timeline for Dental Residencies

After completing dental school, many aspiring dentists wonder if they are required to do a residency. While it is not mandatory, completing a residency can provide valuable experience and open doors to advanced career opportunities.

Understanding the application process and timeline for dental residencies is crucial for those considering this option.

Application Components

When applying for dental residencies, there are several components that you will need to prepare. These typically include:

  • Personal statement: A well-written personal statement that highlights your passion for dentistry and your specific interests in the residency program.
  • Letters of recommendation: Strong letters of recommendation from faculty members, mentors, or dentists who can speak to your skills, work ethic, and potential as a resident.
  • Transcripts: Official dental school transcripts that showcase your academic achievements and coursework.
  • Curriculum vitae (CV): A comprehensive CV that outlines your education, research experience, clinical experience, and any other relevant achievements.
  • Standardized test scores: Some residency programs may require standardized test scores, such as the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE) or the Dental Admission Test (DAT).

It’s important to thoroughly review the application requirements for each residency program you are interested in and ensure you meet all the criteria before submitting your application.

Timeline and Deadlines

The timeline for dental residency applications can vary slightly depending on the program and the specialty. In general, the application cycle for most residencies begins around the summer or fall of the year preceding the start of the residency. Here is a general timeline to give you an idea:

Timeline Activities
Summer/Fall Research residency programs, gather application materials, and request letters of recommendation.
November-January Submit applications through the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) Postdoctoral Application Support Service (PASS) or directly to individual programs.
February-March Interviews are conducted by residency programs.
April-May Offers are made, and applicants have a limited time to accept or decline.
July/August Residency programs begin.

It is important to note that some residency programs may have earlier or later deadlines, so it is essential to check the specific dates for the programs you are interested in and plan accordingly.

Interviews and Offers

Once your application is reviewed and considered, you may be invited for an interview. Dental residency interviews typically involve a combination of individual interviews, group activities, and tours of the facility.

This is an opportunity for the program to assess your compatibility and for you to learn more about the program.

After the interview process, residency programs will extend offers to selected candidates. It is essential to carefully consider the offers and make a decision within the given time frame. Keep in mind that accepting an offer is a commitment, and declining an offer may impact future applications.


In summary, completing a residency is not required to become a practicing general dentist, but additional training through a residency program can provide advantages. While optional, residencies allow for advanced clinical experience and specialization.

Carefully considering the pros and cons of applying to residency programs versus entering practice directly after graduation is an important part of planning your career path after finishing dental school.

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