Dental licensing in 2020: Where are they now?

In March 2020, many dental schools shut classroom and clinic doors. A deadly virus was circulating the globe, known as SARS-CoV-2, or more commonly referred to as COVID-19.

With many clinics and testing centers closed, students were prevented from taking licensing exams. Additional barriers stood in the way of students in states that required a live-patient exam, or a live-patient component of the exam, that could not be fulfilled under a state of emergency.

These unexpected circumstances left 2020 graduates in a state of uncertainty. Questions emerged: Will I be able to take my licensing exam as scheduled? Is it safe for me to see patients? Will I even graduate? Will I lose job opportunities because I don’t have a license?

ASDA went to work to find answers to these questions. We hosted a town hall webinar for members to share concerns and ask questions. With nearly 600 ASDA members in attendance, the licensure town hall webinar was ASDA’s largest webinar to date.

We developed a state-specific strategy to advocate for alternatives such as the manikin exam and DLOSCE. Through this state-by-state strategy, a letter with specific requests applicable to each state was sent to each dental board from local ASDA leaders. Due in part to this campaign, tangible changes resulted for the class of 2020: 43 states made changes to initial licensing requirements through a variety of modifications. Some states granted a temporary or provisional license, some states accepted the DLOSCE exam, and many states accepted manikin-based alternatives to the live patient exam. This was a huge victory in our decades-long fight for licensure reform. To assess the impact that licensure changes had on 2020 graduates, ASDA sent a survey. While some students had already taken their clinical exams before the pandemic, others had not. For these students, the pandemic and lack of viable licensure alternatives disrupted their timeline and plans for the future. Students shared they could not begin their residency or entry into private practice when planned, and some lost job opportunities because they did not have a license. ASDA is committed to leaving no student behind in the future, which is why ASDA’s Board of Trustees appointed a task force to continue a state-by-state strategy to advocate for permanent reform at the grassroots level.

Continuing to urge states to accept manikin alternatives and the DLOSCE is crucial for ensuring a safe, ethical and reliable exam, in addition to ensuring a timely graduation for the class of 2021 and beyond. The pandemic demonstrated that outdated live-patient exams are no longer needed to demonstrate competency. Keep an eye out for the Wednesday, March 24, article highlighting a 2020 grad able to take a manikin exam to receive her license and is successfully pursuing her residency. Email [email protected] to learn more about how to get involved at the grassroots level.


The American Student Dental Association is a national student-run organization that protects and advances the rights, interests and welfare of dental students.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s crazy that it took a pandemic to start finally updating an antiquated way of testing competency. When I graduated 12 years ago, I was grateful that CA accepted a GPR instead of a live-patient exam as a pathway to obtain licensure. My heart goes out to all the dental students put in this stressful position once the pandemic hit.

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