The Road to Becoming a Specialist 


The journey to becoming a dental specialist begins as one embarks their dental education. Dental specialties are recognized by the American Dental Association (ADA) to “protect the public, nurture the art and science of dentistry, and improve the quality of care.”  The pursuit of advanced knowledge and skills are essential to the field of dentistry to maintain or restore oral health. 

The nine dental specialties recognized by the ADA include:

·      Dental Public Health

·      Endodontics

·      Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology

·      Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology

·      Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics

·      Pediatric Dentistry

·      Periodontics

·      Prosthodontics


The first step of the specialist journey is to excel in ones academics.  Those who are successful in obtaining positions in specialty programs have graduated in the top 10-25% of their class.

Advanced Dental Admissions Test

Be aware that most programs are now requiring specialty applicants to take the Advanced Dental Admissions Test (ADAT).  This test is to be taken during the 3rd or 4th year of dental school.  The ADAT is designed to provide dental education programs with a means to assess applicants’ potential for success.  Content of the exam includes critical thinking skills in biomedical sciences, clinical sciences, data analysis, research interpretation, evidence based dentistry and ethics.  There are 200 multiple choice questions of which 80 are in biomedical science, 60 in clinical sciences, 30 in data research, and 30 in practice management and ethics.  Students are allotted 4.5 hours to complete the exam. 

Build Experience

It is important for one to be familiar with the faculty who are specialists at ones dental institution.  Faculty who recognize a student’s interest in a specialty will help guide ones dental education and experience to successfully enter a specialty program.  This involves projects, research, priority in specialty specific patient cases, and volunteer and externship opportunities.  Externships are viable routes to become more familiar with specialty programs.  Find out which specialty programs are welcoming externship opportunities and utilize them during the breaks.  Involvement in clubs and organizations enhance ones opportunities to network with specialists who encourage shadowing opportunities at their practices. 

Build a Portfolio

Make sure to maintain record of the types of procedures you have performed.  This will enable one to build an organized portfolio of their dental capabilities and provides specialty programs of what type of experiences an applicant has. 

Research Specialty Programs

Before applying to specialty programs, be well aware of their requirements and whether they emphasize on research or clinical skills.  Where is this program? Do they require the ADAT? How many years is the program? Do residents get a stipend? What type of licensure do they require? It is important to make sure the program is comfortable and compatible with the applicant.  Some programs welcome students as soon as their 1st year of dental school to come visit their institution for shadowing and externship opportunities. 

Specializing is a rewarding component of the dental profession.  Patients and general practitioners rely on specialists to provide the highest quality of care.  To find out more about how to specialize, visit the ADA and ASDA websites.