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Failing your licensing exam may seem like the end of the world, but the failure rates show that you are not alone.  Depending upon your licensing jurisdiction, you may have a wait period to retake the exam, plus if you need to reapply, it will take time to process and schedule your examination—perhaps several months. In the interim, you will probably have two concerns: first, achieving licensure and second, making a living now that your entry to dental practice has been delayed.

Your first task in achieving licensure is to review the information provided by the testing agency regarding your areas of failure. Reflect on your experience during the exam. If you had a problem with a patient, or were aware that the section did not go well, your score probably did not surprise you. Decide if you need further work in that aspect of clinical care. If so, you may wish to consult with a clinical instructor.  Or, if your dental school offers a remediation program, it could be wise to take advantage of it.

For new graduates who planned to relocate to practice, or for those whose dental school does not offer a remediation program, it may be possible to participate in a remediation program at an appropriate dental school. Many remediation programs are open to non-alumni. See the Dental Schools with Remediation Programs listing.

You must also make a decision regarding the appeal. In many cases, you can request that your test by re-scored to make sure that there was no error. However, you should be aware that the testing agencies are not likely to over-ride the evaluation of the examiners. Occasionally, new graduates report that the testing process was not according to the approved procedure. This may be an effective ground for appeal. For more information regarding the appeals process, please contact the testing agency or your state dental board.

Retaking the exam or filing an appeal may not be your only options. Some jurisdictions accept more than one regional exam. For scheduling convenience or a new experience, you may wish to travel, if necessary, to take a different exam. 

In addition, you may wish to contact the state dental society for the name of your state new dentist committee representative. Often, new dentist committees set a goal of assisting recent graduates with the state licensure process, and may have practical advice to offer.

The state or local dental society can also be helpful regarding your options for employment during the interim.  Volunteers or staff may know of dentists in your area who may be willing to have you assist them in their office. Although you can't practice dentistry, you could still learn much from the practice environment.  The state Dental Practice Act may allow you to serve in a hygienist, dental assistant or dental lab capacity. Your state dental society should have more information. In addition, the ADA offers a nonpracticing membership category for people with a dental degree but who do not have a license. Your Association can be a great resource during this time and membership options are available to you.