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January 9, 2008 12:44 PM   Subscribe

Let's say I want to go to Dental School. At age 38. With no medical or dental background at all. Is this foolish?

I'm thinking of drastically changing careers. Lately I've met a couple of dentists and every time I turn around I read or hear something about how dentistry has a great future and is recession proof, etc etc. One particular friend is a surgical dentist (I don't know the official word is..he does root canals and invasive stuff like that ) and from the way he talks about it - a degree of artistry, working with your hands, immediate, tangible results, good salary, possibility of being your own boss - I think it might be perfect for me. So, questions:

- what kind of bio/chem/anatomy background do I need for dental school?

- is coming out of dental school in my early 40s going to make it very difficult to get hired?

- how long is dental school?

- to the dentists out there, what does the business environment look like now and maybe on a 10 to 15 year horizon?

Thanks!
posted by spicynuts to Work & Money (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can only answer for the school that I am familiar with so keep in mind schools that you apply to may be different. As far as science classes you have to take before applying you need 2 years of biology, 1 year of physics, 1 year of general chemistry (sometimes called inorganic depending on the school), and 1 year of ogranic chemistry. Also, sometimes they do not require you to have them complete when you apply just complete before you begin school. This will vary from school to school. You will also need to take the DAT which is the dental admission test. Dental school is usually 4 years although there may be a 3 year program that I am unfamiliar with.

I don't think your age will count against you for admission into dental school nor do I think it will count against you once you get out.

Best advice I can give you: Look at all the admissions info of the various schools you would apply to, to see their requirements. Get any required classes out of the way and start studying for the DAT. Ask your dentist if you can shadow him/her or volunteer in the office to get some exposure and see if it's something you would enjoy. Best of luck to you.
posted by GlowWyrm at 12:54 PM on January 9, 2008


My dentist in my home town was a French teacher before he became a dentist (in his late 30s).
posted by acoutu at 12:57 PM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


My dentist was an art teacher before she became a dentist (in her 30s).
posted by Sweetie Darling at 1:04 PM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is not a bad idea. You would probably need to do a post-bac in pre-med though. I don't know the exact requirements. Good luck!
posted by parmanparman at 1:07 PM on January 9, 2008


Crap. I was hoping maybe there might be some kind of program that is specifically for older people looking to transition - like a mixed pre-med/dental school 4 year program. I actually have a dentist appointment next week. I'm going to ask him.
posted by spicynuts at 1:22 PM on January 9, 2008


My dentist was a math teacher before she became a dentist (not sure how old she was when she did this, but it continues the thread of teacher-to-dentist transition!)
posted by srah at 1:30 PM on January 9, 2008


Spicynuts, there IS a type of program for older people looking to transition into medical/dental professions from totally unrelated disciplines. It's called a post-baccalaureate premedical program. Typically, these take 1 to 2 years to complete; you take all of the necessary prerequisite coursework, take the relevant exam (MCAT or DAT) and then apply, apply apply.
posted by killdevil at 1:31 PM on January 9, 2008


like a mixed pre-med/dental school 4 year program

Can't you do a post-baccalaureate pre-med program? I know that a lot of good small colleges have them, like Bryn Mawr. I am sure that whatever pre-reqs you get in the pre-med program would qualify you for dental school.
posted by jayder at 1:32 PM on January 9, 2008


Yeah I guess that's the way it's gonna have to work. So now I'm looking at a 5 to 6 year timeline. Man, that might be rough. I wonder what start up costs and failure rates on independent practices are.
posted by spicynuts at 1:38 PM on January 9, 2008


would you be comfortable working in someone's mouth all day long?

do you have any back problems?
posted by Salvatorparadise at 2:04 PM on January 9, 2008


recession proof

Not to rain on your parade, but I've heard dentristry mentioned more than once as a profession that is, or is on it's way to, working itself out of a customer base: with fluoride, frequent brushing/flushing etc., people or just not going to need dentists as mush in the future as they used to do.
posted by AwkwardPause at 2:36 PM on January 9, 2008


There's a great tool for post-bac premed cert programs here. I also received a lot of great advice when I asked a similar question some time ago. As a quick aside to all the kind folks who answered that question- I've just sent out my application materials and should be hearing back in the coming months.
posted by The White Hat at 2:53 PM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


AwkwardPause, as long as there's Coca-Cola, there will be dentists... I should know, having spent about $5k in 2007 to reverse the damage ;)
posted by klanawa at 3:08 PM on January 9, 2008


Have you thought about working as a hygeinist while you put yourself through school? It requires some schooling, but you could start that much quicker. You don't want to reach your second or third year or dental school and realize you don't like sticking your head in people's mouths after all.
posted by fermezporte at 4:08 PM on January 9, 2008


Recession proof is a strong phrasing, but dentistry is a good profession if you're like it and want it. With the new baby boomers retiring everyday, health care is not going to disappear for healthcare is one of those ever changing industry.

I don't know too much about the specifics but you're looking at about the same length of studying as medical student or more if your undergraduate studies weren't in science. DAT may be doable if you have solid science background, but doesn't guarantee you on good school, especially if you want to get into stuff like periodontics for they look at everything(grades, tests, etc). Being a specialist of any kind is not an easy breeze either, you have to be in the top 3 to enter advanced dentistry programs like periodontics. Once you complete the program, however, with an hour of work, you make tens of thousands of dollars for 2-3 implants.

Unless you were in the medical profession to begin with, while it's not impossible, it'll be a great challenge. Perhaps you can look into socioeconomic field like law. A law degree, different from healthcare industry, is easier to enter without a specific background or requirements.
posted by icollectpurses at 4:44 PM on January 9, 2008


I like Fermezporte idea of working as a hygienist while in school. You'll be miles ahead of the other students. I know nursing students who work as patient care techs while in school. By the time they graduated, they were super-competent.
posted by TorontoSandy at 5:39 PM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I read an article recently that mentioned that the future of dentistry is specialization. Cosmetic dentistry is a hugely growing field, and periodontists will also be in demand as the Baby Boomer generation gets older, lives longer, and wants to keep their teeth in the process.
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:02 AM on January 10, 2008


You could also think about studying outside the US as well (assuming that's where you are). There is a 5 year English program in Prague, there aren't any real prereqs as far as course work, but you do need to do well on the entrance exam which covers biology, chemistry and physics. It's actually a very competitive program with only 12 seats.. so you'd have to extremely well on that test. The dean of the program did his PhD at Harvard and has clinics throughout the states, so I'm sure he could tell you what you'd need to do after school to work back home. Send me a private message if you want more info.
posted by sero_venientibus_ossa at 7:24 AM on January 10, 2008


Salvatorparadise's question about back problems is REALLY important. My father (age 67) is a dentist with MASSIVE back problems and chronic pain (terrible pain that requires tons of daily painkillers to manage) and I know another dentist in his 70s who's had two hip replacements thus far and has also had some back issues. Not sure if there are better chairs out there that make it easier on dentists' backs while they work, but having a strong back, and being committed to keeping it that way should be a consideration.

Good luck! I think you should do it!
posted by FlyByDay at 10:58 AM on January 10, 2008


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