Each state sets its own licensure requirements (use this state-by-state guide to navigate). However, all licensing boards use the National Board Dental Examinations to satisfy a major portion of their written requirements. The NBDE 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. After you've passed both exams, you're on your way to taking your regional licensing exam.

Two Parts of NBDE

Part I 

  • Generally taken after your first or second year of dental school (after the basic science curriculum is completed)
  • Subject areas are from the following disciplines: anatomic sciences, biochemistry-physiology, microbiology-pathology and dental anatomy and occlusion
  • Structured as a one-day exam: 400 questions to be completed in seven hours with 20% being grouped into testlets with interdisciplinary focus and clinical application
  • Performance is scored as pass/fail, with a score of 75 being the minimum passing score
  • Fee is $435 (plus an additional $200 handling or processing fee for graduates from a dental school that isn’t accredited by CODA)

Part II 

  • Generally taken during the third or fourth year of dental school
  • Subject areas focus on clinical dentistry:
    • Endodontics
    • Operative dentistry
    • Oral and maxillofacial surgery/pain control
    • Oral diagnosis
    • Orthodontics/pediatric dentistry
    • Patient management
    • Periodontics
    • Pharmacology
    • Prosthodontics
  • Structured as a two-day exam: 400 questions to be completed in seven hours on the first day; 100 case-based questions to be completed in three and a half hours on the second day; 80% of items are stand alone and 20% are interdisciplinary and case-based
  • Performance is scored as pass/fail, with a score of 75 being the minimum passing score
  • Fee is $480 (plus an additional $200 handling or processing fee for graduates from a dental school that isn’t accredited by CODA)

Steps for Taking NBDE Part I & II

1. Read the NBDE Candidate Guide.
Be familiar with the NBDE testing guidelines for each part of the exam. The guides are available on the ADA website; you can download a PDF of the guides for Parts I and II. Reviewing it will give you an idea of testing protocol, exam structure and more.

2. Send your eligibility letter to JCDNE.
Either you or your school must send a completed "certification of eligibility" signed by your dean to the JCDNE office for each NBDE application submitted (there is a different form for Part I and Part II).

3. Obtain your DENTPIN and apply for the exam.
Before you can apply to take NBDE Part I, you must register for a DENTPIN. If you didn't receive one when you started dental school, register for one here. Once you have it handy, apply for Part I or Part II online.

4. Sign up for a test date.
The tests are administered by Prometric Inc., at Prometric Test Centers. Do not wait too long to schedule the test — many students often take these exams around the same time and spaces are limited. Plan ahead to ensure you are able to reserve the date you want, especially with Part II which needs to be taken on two consecutive days. Sign up here. Test dates may be rescheduled up to 48 hours in advance. The more notice you give, the less expensive the rescheduling fee will be (i.e. $25 for 31+ business days prior to testing appointment, $100 for one to five business days prior to the testing appointment).

Study Materials and Tips

Take practice exams: ASDA sells released examinations with actual questions from the NBDE. Time yourself when you take these exams and learn from incorrect answers. It is against NBDE policy to use or distribute unreleased or remembered questions.

ASDA has put together a list of other study resources for the NBDE. Please note: ASDA does not endorse these products. This is simply a list of the most commonly used study resources by our members.

Review sessions and study groups: Organize study sessions through your ASDA chapter to help students prepare for the exams. Being able to explain concepts to others is a great way to learn something.

Test Day

  • Bring two original, current photo IDs (e.g. driver's license, passport, social security card). The name on your ID must match the name you put on your application.
  • Know where your test center is and how long it takes to get there. Report to the test center 30 min. early or you may not be allowed to take the examination.
  • Wear comfortable clothes.
  • Nothing can go into the test with you — no cell phones, watches, etc. They must be stored in a designated locker and can be accessed during scheduled breaks only.
  • Pack a nutritious lunch — you have an optional one-hour break half-way through the exam.

Retaking the Exam

According to the JCDNE, you must wait 90 days between examination attempts. You will not receive your eligibility information nor will you be able to contact Prometric to schedule an appointment until the 90 day waiting period is over. Candidates who have received a passing score may not retest unless they provide evidence that they must retest for purposes of licensure. Candidates are limited to successful completion of an examination within five years of testing or five examination attempts, whichever comes first.

Upcoming Changes to NBDE

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.