When it comes to license requirements or application to international or advanced standing programs for foreign trained dentists, NBDE is by far considered the common denominator and the first step in this long process (at least for the time being, this may change soon where you will only be able to sit for the NBDE after being admitted to a US school).
As of now the NBDE exam consists of two parts and it's administered by the ADA Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE). Part I of NBDE covers most aspects of the biomedical sciences while part II deals mostly with clinical dentistry issues.
NBDE Part I
It's extremely important that you carefully read and review the NBDE Part I Candidate Guide, you can download a copy of the guide here. The fee for the NBDE exam is $265. The following eligibility requirements for taking the NBDE exam apply to international dental graduates or foreign trained dentists, these requirements were adapted from the NBDE candidate guide (2009):
You must submit an examination application and fee to: The Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations 211 East Chicago Avenue, Suite 600 Chicago, Illinois 60611-2678
You can also use the online application, which is available here.
You must have your official dental school course transcripts verified by: Educational Credential Evaluators, Inc. P.O. Box 514070 Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202-3470 414-289-3400 http://www.ece.org/ You must contact Educational Credential Evaluators, Inc. (ECE) and request an ECE application form. The ECE form will describe what educational credentials are required and how to submit them to ECE. Fees for ECE services will also be listed ($85 at the time this page is published). You should indicate that a General Report should be sent directly to the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations. It takes approximately four weeks for ECE to evaluate credentials.
Educational Credential Evaluators, Inc. will send the ECE General Evaluation Report directly to a) you and b) the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (if it was requested by you on the ECE application).
The Joint Commission will hold the NBDE examination application, but will not process it before the ECE Evaluation Report is received. The ECE report must be received in the Joint Commission office by the application deadline.
Your name on the ECE report must match the name on the application. Any name changes must be accompanied by legal documentation.
There are other important information listed in the NBDE guide, again you should familiarize yourself with this guide and read it a couple of times.
Most schools require foreign trained dentists to take NBDE part I and they do assign a certain weight in their acceptance decision on your score on that exam, some may also require part II.
The NBDE exam is administered only at Prometric test centers in the US and Canada, once you register you will receive information directing you on how to register for a certain date. At one point in time (when I took the test), the test was paper-based only, gosh, I feel so old!
According to the official candidate guide, the NBDE could take up to 7 hours, divided into 3.5 hours segments, 200 questions each, with an optional one hour break.
Again, your first step is to become familiar with everything listed in the NBDE Part II Candidate Guide which you can download here. The examination fee for part II is $345. You do not need a newECE report if you have already taken care of this during Part I.
Part II is also computer-based, administered in Prometric, you can submit a paper application, or register online here. Many other regulations and procedures are similar to Part I. The only difference is the scope of the exam, NBDE Part II tackles the different dental specialties, patient management, and pharmacology.
The exam is administered in two days, day one consists of two 3.5 hours segments, 200 questions each, of discipline-based questions. Day two consists of 100 case-based questions. You will be given several cases with 10-15 questions each.
Preparation for the NBDE Exam:
Obviously, a strong and solid background is needed before you tackle any of these exams, being a foreign trained dentist gives you at least a theoretical advantage because chances are that you are familiar with at least some of the subject covered in the NBDE exam, that should be derived from your text books and lecture notes, but you may want to also supplement your preparation efforts with other educational aids, I've used some of the following, but not all, so I can't attest to how effective they are, but I know that the following teaching aids are being used by many foreign trained dentists and other international students in lots of different ways:
Released national board dental exams from previous years, can be a great resource, the more recent, the better, they can serve to familiarize you with the format of the exam, and you can use them to test yourself and your preparation, don't count too much on seeing the same questions though in your exam. You can purchase those directly from the American Student Dental Association. I encourage you to become a member of ASDA, foreign-trained dentists or international dental graduates who are not yet enrolled in a US dental school can join at the associate level, the dues are $53 and you get decent discounts on reprints of the released NBDE exams.
First Aid for the NBDE Part I and First Aid for the NBDE Part II are both useful guides published by McGraw-Hill , with lots of good reviews, written by students who aced the National Dental Board Exams and reviewed by top dental school faculty and practitioners, include hundreds of high-yield facts and mnemonics to maximize study time, and test-taking strategies and advice.
Dental Decks: a flash card-based educational tool, could be very useful if you like that style of learning, you can check them out here. They can be somewhat pricey, so you may want to shop for them at other outlets or on eBay.
Kaplan provides several resources to prepare for the NBDE exam, they offer prep courses for both parts at their centers, those could be expensive, but may work well for you if you need a strong classroom-like refresher of your information. They also offer online programs which are basically question-banks with or without lecture notes. They vary in prices depending on how long you will use the service, more like a subscription-based system.
Effective January 2010 the JCNDE will start reporting performance in the NBDE exams as pass or fail only, and possibly administer a new version of this exam that basically combines both parts into one exam that is for the most part composed of clinical cases-specific questions.
There are couple of interesting issues that will arise because of this change, and those are mainly related to international dental graduates (foreign trained dentists). You see up until now we only needed to take part I and use that score to apply to schools that used to look at the score and make their acceptance vs. rejection based on that score and many other criteria. When the new exam is rolled, this will be impossible, since you need to be enrolled in a dental school before being allowed to take the exam, as you can see, the new format can't be used as an admission requirements since you can't even take the exam before being already accepted into school, and because standard scores cannot be reported anymore.
What could make this even more complicated is the fact that with the new format schools may feel obliged to add more biomedical sciences courses to the curriculum of the international programs to make sure their students are adequately prepared to pass the NBDE in its new comprehensive format, this could very well mean longer programs (more than two years), and higher tuition. So, if you are reading this now, and you're still thinking, my advice to you is to go ahead and take part I and secure that important step toward obtaining your license to practice dentistry here.
Update from the newsletter of the JCNDE:
The Joint Commission remains committed to the implementation of pass/fail scoring for Part I and Part II as well as for the Dental Hygiene examination. However, the Joint Commission approved of a delay in the transition from a reporting of numerical scores to a pass/fail reporting system from January 1, 2010 to January 1, 2012. The Joint Commission specified that individuals taking the examination before January 1, 2012 will retain their numerical scores. The decision to delay implementation was made to allow key stakeholders more time to prepare for the transition, especially state boards that may need to amend their practice acts.