Licensure for dental students

Dental students must take clinical and written exams to receive their initial dental license. Requirements vary among states.

Dental Student Grad

How to get your initial dental license

Each state dental board sets the clinical licensure requirements for its state. While many require clinical examinations, some states accept additional pathways to licensure, including completion of a postgraduate year residency program (PGY1), passage of an objective structured clinical examination (DLOSCE or OSCE administered by NDEB) or completion of a portfolio exam (2014 California Portfolio Exam).

Clinical exams are administered by one of three testing agencies. Review the Licensure Dashboard maps to see which exams (CDCA, CITA, CRDTS, SRTA, WREB) and which type (manikin or patient) are accepted by the state you intend to practice in. Note that Delaware administers its own exam, while New York requires completion of a one year residency program.

CDCA-WREB-CITA (formerly the Commission for Dental Competency Assessments (CDCA), the Western Regional Examining Board (WREB), The Council of Interstate Testing Agencies (CITA))
Central Regional Dental Testing Services (CRDTS)
States Resources for Testing and Assessments (SRTA)

Exams may be administered in one of two ways.

In the traditional format, all clinical parts of the exam are completed over a 2-3 day span by candidates who have either graduated from or nearly completed their final year of dental school.

The curriculum integrated format (CIF) allows dental students of record to complete the exam in sections spread out through their last year of dental school.

Review each state’s specific licensure requirements and contact information.
View the examinations, credentials, and CE requirements for each state/territory.

Preparing for your licensure exam

The same attention to detail that helped you throughout dental school will ensure you are well prepared for your licensure exam. Check with the state dental board for the most current requirements, especially since some states have started accepting manikin-based exams.

Read and re-read the candidate’s manual. Each exam has precise requirements.

Plan for the unexpected. Think through different scenarios and develop a plan of action for each potential situation.

Develop a schedule and checklist. Effective time management is critical both before and during the exam. Include as much detail as possible on your exam-day checklist.

Know what’s required for a patient exam. If you are not taking a manikin-based exam, make sure to understand and follow all requirements around patient selection, insurance, and travel logistics.

See which states accept and which require a post-graduate residency for licensure.
See which states accept objective structured clinical exams for licensure. 
See which states allow students to submit a portfolio for licensure.

What if I fail?

Failing your licensing exam may seem like the end of the world, but it is a relatively minor setback in your dentistry career. Your options will vary depending upon your licensing jurisdiction, but try to be patient as it can take time. You may have to wait to retake the exam, and if you need to reapply, it will take time to process and reschedule your examination. 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.

Understand the details

First, review the information provided by the testing agency to understand which area(s) you failed. Reflect on your experience. Did you have a problem with a patient, or feel uncertain during one section?

Get support from your colleagues, school and organized dentistry

Find out if your dental school offers a remediation program. Some such programs are offered to non-alumni, which can be helpful if you have relocated.

Connect with your state or local dental society to find the name of your new dentist committee representative. These committees often assist recent graduates with the licensure process and may offer practical advice. Your local society can also help you explore options for employment while you prepare to retake the exam. Although you can’t practice dentistry, you can learn by working in the practice environment.

The ADA can also be a great resource during this time and offers a non-practicing membership committee for people with a dental degree but no license. Explore ADA for Dental Students and the ADA New Dentist Committee. The American Student Dental Association (ASDA) and American Dental Education Association (ADEA) also have resources to help you succeed. The Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations and ADA Council on Dental Education and Licensure can also offer guidance.

Consider an appeal

You can also may consider an appeal. Review the testing agency's candidate guide manual and contact the testing agency or state dental board for details on their appeal process.

Retake the exam

For many, the best option is to retake the exam. Some jurisdictions accept more than one regional exam. For scheduling convenience or a new experience, you may wish to travel to take a different exam. You may also be able to file an appeal, though this option may not get you the result desired.