The Dental Licensure Process

Because dentists are licensed by jurisdictions such as states, districts, or dependencies, and not at the national level, different licensing jurisdictions can have disparate requirements for licensure. But for the most part, the requirements are pretty similar:

  1. Education
  2. Written examination
  3. Clinical requirement

All jurisdictions accept graduates of ADA-accredited dental schools as fulfilling the educational requirement. Additionally, most jurisdictions also accept graduates of Canadian schools that are accredited by the Canadian Dental Association. The National Board Dental Examinations were created to fulfill, either completely or partially, the written examination requirement. That said, states can place limits on their acceptance of NBDE scores. For instance, some don't accept scores from exams taken over 10 years ago. Currently, all U.S. licensing jurisdictions accept passing the NBDE exams as fulfilling the written exam requirement.

The NBDE: A Test In Two Parts

The NBDE is given in two parts—the first to be taken at the end of two years of dental school, and the second to be taken during the last year of school. The first part spans basic biomedical sciences, including:

  • Anatomic Sciences
  • Biochemistry-Physiology
  • Microbiology-Pathology
  • Dental Anatomy and Occlusion

The second part is a comprehensive, 1 1/2 day examination covering clinical dental sciences, and patient management. About 20% of the exam is based on patient cases. States may have different qualifying factors for the clinical requirement of licensure. Find out more from the jurisdiction that will license you.