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Although specific dental licensure requirements vary among jurisdictions, nearly all states require that applicants for initial dental licensure have graduated from an ADA-accredited dental school, passed the National Board Exams Parts I and II, and passed a clinical exam administered by the state or by a regional testing agency.

States vary on the eligibility of an internationally trained dentist. All states, except Minnesota (which has different options) require that graduates of non-accredited ADA dental programs obtain a D.D.S. or D.M.D. degree from an ADA Commission on Dental Accreditation (ADA-CODA) accredited program, or Commission on Dental Accreditation of Canada (CDAC) accredited program, or a state dental board-approved education program. Some states may accept an alternative to the four-year dental program and some states cite specific variations in their laws.

To assist state boards in determining the qualifications of dentists who seek licensure, the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JDNDE) conducts the National Board Dental Examinations. This Commission, a separate entity from the ADA, includes representatives of dental schools, dental examiners, dental hygiene, dental students, dentists and the public. There are two parts to the National Boards: Part I, which is taken after the second year of dental school, and Part II, taken during the final year of dental school. Both parts are offered in a computerized format. Although additional examinations may be required at the state level, all licensing boards use the National Board Dental Examinations to satisfy a major portion of their licensing examination requirements. 

In addition to the National Board Dental Examination, most states and the District of Columbia require a written jurisprudence examination, which tests the applicant’s knowledge of that state’s dental practice act. National Board Dental Examination candidates (for both Part I and Part II) who have not passed after three attempts are required to wait 12 months after their third attempt before they can reapply. After a one year waiting period, a new cycle of three exam attempts will apply. Additionally, candidates shall be limited to successful completion of the NBDE Part I and Part II within five years of testing or five examination attempts, whichever comes first. This policy applies to testing attempts beginning 2012.

Next Step: Clinical Exam
Once a student meets the educational and National Board Dental Examinations requirements, the next step is to take the appropriate clinical dental licensing examination, if such an exam is required for licensure in your state. Clinical exams are developed and administered by dental clinical testing agencies at dental schools. Most states participate in one or more regional examining boards, and a few administer their own exams. Unlike the written examinations, which are fairly standard, clinical exams may vary. Most candidates who do not achieve licensure on their first attempt fail some aspect of the clinical exam.


Disclaimer: We are providing information here that may not be accurate or complete when you view it; you should not rely on this summary but check with the state licensing authorities to get complete and up-to-date information. Please visit the American Association of Dental Boards for current state licensure requirements and information.