How to Become a Dentist

how to become a dentist

From their rigorous academic preparation to the demanding but rewarding nature of their profession, dentists are highly skilled medical practitioners specializing in oral health. This guide will delve into the process of how to become a dentist, detailing each step along the way.

Understanding the Role of a Dentist

Dentists are healthcare professionals specializing in oral health. Their responsibilities extend beyond just cleaning and filling teeth. They diagnose and treat conditions affecting the teeth, gums, and mouth, from cavities and gum disease to oral cancer.

Dentists also play a significant role in educating patients about oral hygiene, diet, and preventive care to maintain optimal dental health. The best way to deal with a dead tooth is to prevent it.

Journey to Becoming a Dentist

The path to becoming a dentist typically involves several stages of education and training. Here’s a general overview:

  1. Complete an undergraduate degree (4 years)
  2. Take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT)
  3. Attend dental school (4 years)
  4. Obtain licensure
  5. Optional: Pursue a specialty through residency (2-6 years)

Let’s explore each of these stages in more detail.

Undergraduate Education

The first step on the journey to becoming a dentist is to complete a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Most dental schools don’t require a specific major, but coursework in science is usually necessary. Taking up a major in biology, chemistry, or a related field can provide a strong foundation for future dental studies.

Students should also consider pre-dentistry or pre-medical programs if their college offers them. These programs typically include the necessary science coursework and can provide students with an understanding of the dental profession.

Dental Admissions Test (DAT)

After completing their undergraduate studies, aspiring dentists must take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT), a standardized exam that assesses their understanding of natural sciences, perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning.

A competitive DAT score is crucial for gaining admission to dental school. Generally, a score of 20 or higher is considered competitive. The test can be taken multiple times to achieve a desirable score.

Dental School

Dental school is a 4-year program that leads to a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD) degree. During these four years, students take classes in anatomy, biology, microbiology, and dental radiology. They also gain hands-on experience treating patients in clinics under the supervision of experienced dentists.

Dental school can be challenging, but it’s also rewarding. Students learn how to diagnose and treat various oral health conditions and gain the skills they need to succeed in their future careers.


After graduating from dental school, dentists must obtain licensure to practice in their state. This involves passing the National Board Dental Examination, a comprehensive two-part exam that tests a dentist’s knowledge and skills.

Additionally, many states require dentists to complete a clinical exam administered by a regional testing agency. This exam involves performing dental procedures on patients under the supervision of licensed dentists.

Specialty Residency (Optional)

Dentists who wish to specialize in a specific area of dentistry beyond common dental procedures. Areas such as pediatric dentistry, orthodontics, or oral surgery, must complete a residency program. These programs typically last between two to six years and involve specialized training and education.

Dentistry Specialties

Dentistry encompasses several recognized specialties, each demanding extra training and education. Specialties range from dental anesthesiology, dental public health, and endodontics to oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics, and pediatric dentistry.

They also include periodontics, prosthodontics, and fields like oral medicine and orofacial pain.

Cost of Becoming a Dentist

Becoming a dentist can be a significant financial investment. The cost of dental school can range from $53,000 to $70,000 per year for private and out-of-state schools. However, in-state schools often cost less.

In addition to tuition, other expenses to consider include application fees, cost of living, transportation, and educational materials such as textbooks and lab equipment.

Dentist Salary

Dentists are well-compensated for their skills and expertise. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for dentists was $163,240 in 2021. However, salaries can vary significantly based on a dentist’s specialty, experience, and geographic location.

Job Outlook for Dentists

The job outlook for dentists is promising, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting an 8% growth in employment between 2020 and 2030. This growth is driven by an increased demand for dental care and preventative services, particularly among the aging population.

Becoming a dentist requires a significant investment of time and resources, but the rewards can be worth it. Dentists play a crucial role in promoting oral health and overall wellness, making it a fulfilling and lucrative career choice for those interested in healthcare.

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