Licensure is the process whereby a state grants dentists the legal authority to practice dentistry.
Each state sets its own licensure requirements (use this state map
to navigate). There is no universal licensure exam (i.e. getting licensed in your state doesn't guarantee the ability to practice in another state). Although specifics vary, all states have three requirements:
All states’ educational requirements are satisfied by graduation from a dental school accredited by the ADA Commission on Dental Accreditation.
All licensing boards use the National Board Dental Examinations to satisfy a major portion of their written exam requirements. The National Board Examination Parts I and II are developed and administered by the ADA’s Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations. The actual exams are conducted by regional or state examining boards.
The Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE) will
combine the NBDE Part I and Part II into a singular Integrated National Board Dental Examination (INBDE). This exam is in development and scheduled for implementation in 2020.
Clinical exam requirements vary. Most candidates who do not achieve licensure on their first attempt fail in some aspect of the clinical exam. Currently, only Delaware administers their own clinical exam. The remaining boards contract that responsibility to one of the five regional testing agencies:
States accept results of examinations administered by one or more testing agencies of which they are not a member. Review the licensure laws and regulations from the individual state board websites for real-time information about which exams are accepted where licensure is sought.
The ADA has also compiled this information into a table that summarizes exam and credential requirements.
Licensure for International Students
Many dentists and dental students educated outside the United States and Canada wish to obtain a dental license to practice in the U.S. To become licensed to do so, internationally-trained dentists must follow different steps. Read more on ASDA's Tips for International Dental Students webpage. The ADA also has resources for international dentists.
Resources for obtaining licensure