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Licensing in a Nutshell

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There are several ways dentists can become licensed in the United States depending on where they want to practice. The different pathways to achieve licensure can be somewhat overwhelming, and taking a live patient examination can make licensure even more stressful. Did you know that dentistry and cosmetology are the only two career fields that still use live patient examinations? Medical doctors, surprisingly, do not have live patient examinations. Licensing exams include the WREB, CDCA (formerly the NERB), CITA, SRTA and CRDTS. In addition, dentists can also be licensed by portfolio in California and by residency in Minnesota, California, Colorado, and Ohio. So, which pathway should you take?


Ultimately, the decision on how you want to achieve licensure depends on the state in which you intend to practice. As a first step, I would highly recommend visiting the website of each state’s dental board. Figure out what exactly their licensure requirements are and if there are any caveats associated with them.

What do I mean by caveats? Let me give you an example. I am currently a fourth-year dental student and will be completing a one-year, PGY1 AEGD program in California. Since I would like to stay in California to eventually practice, I have decided to achieve licensure through my residency program instead of taking the WREBs. Now, why wouldn’t I go ahead and take the WREBS, knowing that it would open me up to practice in more states? After doing some research on the California State Dental Board website, I discovered that if you have failed the WREBs within the last five years and are trying to fulfill licensure by residency, you would not be able to get your license this way. More so, some GPR and AEGD programs will not let you start their program if you have failed the WREBs. Instead of putting myself through all that stress, I decided not to take the WREBs and get my license through residency. This is what I mean by reading into requirements and seeing if there are any minor details to be aware of before taking an exam.

A quick note on licensure by residency: In applicable states, it can be achieved by completing a one-year, post-graduate (PGY1) CODA-approved GPR or AEGD program. Licensure by residency does not include specialty residencies.

Keep in mind, depending on the state, dentists can also achieve licensure by credential if they have already been a licensed dentist in one state and would like to practice in another. Usually the dentist needs to have practiced in their licensed state for about five years and have accumulated many working hours to be licensed in another state. Again, this really depends on the individual state and what their exact requirements are.

Hopefully, in the near future dentistry will start to pull away from the live patient based examinations and opt for more licensure by portfolio or residency. Until then, it is important to do your research and make sure to understand all the details associated with your state and choice of licensure.