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Licensure Overview

Licensure is a process every dentist must go through at least once during his or her professional life in order to practice dentistry. In the United States, licensure requirements vary from state to state and all applicants must meet three basic requirements: education, written examination, and clinical examination. The state dental board is the appropriate agency to contact for specific information about licensure requirements, the state dental practice act, or other licensure-related information. The information in this section is a brief summary of important facts to help dentists and dental students become more familiar with terms used and more informed about the licensure process.

The Task Force on Assessment of Readiness for Practice

Ensuring patient safety and that each dentist meets professional standards for practice are the critical underpinnings of the dental licensure process. In support of this process a joint task force of the American Dental Association, the American Dental Education Association and the American Student Dental Association, released its groundbreaking report supporting the modernization of the dental licensure process, which is the culmination of over two years of research, discussion and collaboration between the organizations. 

The report addresses two priority concerns with the existing licensure process in place in most states: 1) the use of single encounter, procedure-based examinations on patients as part of the licensure examination, and 2) mobility challenges that are unduly burdensome and unnecessary for ensuring patient safety. Download and read the full report.

Report of the Task Force on Assessment of Readiness for Practice

State Specific Licensure Information

As a member service, the ADA collects and summarizes state dental licensure information.  All licensing jurisdictions are included.  A quick reference to state licensure requirements and laws for dentists is available within the state licensure tables.

In the United States, the final authority on licensure requirements is the individual state. Though requirements vary from state to state, all applicants for dental licensure must meet three basic requirements; an education requirement, a written examination requirement and a clinical examination requirement.

Review the State Dental Licensure Requirements for U.S. Dentists section for more information.

State Boards of Dentistry

The state board of dentistry (also known as board of dental examiners) is an agency of state government created by the state legislature. This agency governs the qualifications for and the practice of dentistry within the state. The board’s authority is limited to that granted by the state legislature and typically includes:

  1. establishment of qualifications for licensure,
  2. issuance of licenses to qualified individuals,
  3. establishment of standards of practice and conduct,
  4. taking disciplinary action against those who engage in misconduct, and
  5. promulgation of rules to enable the board to perform its duties.

The state dental board is the appropriate agency to contact for the most current and up-to-date information about licensure requirements, the state dental practice act, or other licensure-related information.

Individual state board information can be found on the American Association of Dental Boards (AADB) Website. Choose your state of interest for specific licensure information.

While the American Dental Association recognizes and supports the state's right to regulate dental licensure, it has adopted policies on licensure issues, including freedom of movement for dentists, increased standardization of clinical licensing examinations, specialty licensure and the use of human subjects in clinical examinations.

The ADA developed the document, “Ethical Considerations When Using Patients in the Examination Process” as an educational tool for dental students and licensure candidates. It serves to promote awareness of the potential ethical dilemmas faced by candidates during the examination process and to assist in maintaining the welfare of the patient as the profession’s paramount concern. The document reflects existing ADA policy supporting the elimination of the use of patients in the clinical examination process with the exception of the Curriculum Integrated Format (CIF) within dental schools.