Applying to dental school as an international dentist

Shruti at the University of Michigan for an interview, 2014.

I wanted to improve my skills after graduation in 2011. I had received my Bachelor of Dental Surgery in India and desired advanced training. I decided to apply to an accredited U.S. dental school.

The decision seemed simple, but I soon realized the amount of materials required for the application. I needed to take assessments like the National Board Dental Examinations (NBDE) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL iBT) examination. I had to apply to schools using the American Dental Education Association Centralized Application for Advanced Placement for International Dentists (ADEA CAAPID). Many schools required supplemental documents as a part of the application. I also needed to prepare for interviews and for the bench examinations. International dentists encounter several barriers during the application process when applying to dental schools.

First, international dentists must secure a U.S. visa to take the NBDE. Visitor visas are not generally issued for taking the exams. One option is to enroll in a Master’s program. Once enrolled, students are eligible for a student visa. An alternative option is to apply for a dependent visa. The dependent visa will permit taking the examinations. In numerous cases, foreign dentists fail to receive a visa and do not even apply. Not only is a visa important for examinations, it is important for gaining work experience.

Most of the U.S. schools prefer to see evidence of work experience. Unfortunately, not all international candidates are eligible to work. Even with a visa, some dental centers refuse to let international dentists volunteer as assistants. Personally, I struggled to get work experience because of my visa status. To gain experience, I started volunteering for a community clinic. Only after getting a legal work permit was I able to work as a dental assistant.

Shruti volunteering for the CDA Cares camp at Solano, 2014.

The ADEA CAAPID is for foreign-trained dentists to apply to dental school in the U.S. or Canada. The process is similar to the ADEA Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS). Like the AADSAS, test scores and application fees are submitted to each school applied to. CAAPID fees and supplemental fees add to the financial burden of applying. The application investment can deter qualified applicants. Adding to the fiscal load, students purchase materials to practice for the bench examination.

Shruti practicing for the bench exam.

Bench examinations are administered by individual schools. The exam assesses three major topics: fixed prosthodontics, removable prosthodontics and operative dentistry. Practicing for the bench exam requires dental equipment and instruments. It also requires a typodont, replacement teeth and dental loupes. Multiple schools and private institutes offer preparation courses for the bench test. Course fees can vary greatly between private institutes and public universities. Performance on the bench exam can improve a student’s application and chances to matriculate.

Shruti at an ASDA waxing event at the UCSF School of Dentistry, 2017

Once accepted, the majority of students need to apply for loans to afford tuition. Candidates without a green card are not eligible for federal loans. To obtain private loans, a permanent resident or citizen cosigner is required. Securing a cosigner can be difficult for students. In a few cases, candidates defer admissions due to the absence of a cosigner. Once successful, an international dentist begins the journey to licensure in the U.S.

International dentists value Advanced Standing Programs. They offer an unprecedented opportunity to further education, develop clinical skill and improve manual dexterity. The path for advancement is filled with obstacles. Do not perceive the barriers as hindrances, but steps to becoming licensed in the U.S.

Please refer to ASDA’s “Tips for International Dental Students” for more information on applying.

Shruti Singh, predental member

Shruti Singh

Shruti completed her Bachelor in Dental Surgery in 2011 in India. She has worked as a Dental Officer at Command Military Dental Centre, India. Currently she is looking forward to attend interviews with an aim to pursue DDS from a US dental school to further enhance her skills and dexterity. Her aim is to practice the art and science of dentistry with pride and determination, and she wants to give back to the community. She loves to spend time with family and friends and feels rewarded by helping others.

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  1. Hi Shruthi!
    Thanks for sharing your experience in the blog. It is one of the best articles I’ve come across that explains the hurdles that international dentists who want to study/practice in USA go through. Keep up your will be rewarded…
    I myself came to the US with an Indian dental degree and had a hard time figuring out the next steps. By God’s grace, I am now a US Board certified Periodontist licensed in Texas!! Be encouraged and stay true to your goal..all the best!

    1. parveen kumar says:

      Hi Meera,

      Can you please tell which US VISA we need to apply to work in USA after getting DDS & state Licence ?

  2. Jan Dean says:

    Hey Shruti. So nice to see your article. I hope you remember me. I wish you all the very best for the interviews. You have worked really hard to get to that point. With this article, you have hit the bulls’ eye. You have stated exactly what any international dentist encounters in order to get licensed in the US and how challenging that path is. Kuddos to you for making the voice of international dentists heard all across the nation.

  3. Rohit says:

    Its a great article with lots of good information regarding what to expect when applying to the dental schools in the US for beginners like me, thanks a lot for that. Can you please let me know if I need both NBDE 1 and 2 in order to apply or only NBDE 1 is sufficient.

  4. Mira says:

    I loved the article. Congrats to you.

  5. Zen Der Waan says:

    Superb piece of information.

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