Becoming a Dentist: 5 CRUCIAL Steps

how do you become a dentist

Becoming a Dentist: 5 CRUCIAL Steps

Dentistry is not just a profession; it’s a pivotal healthcare service focusing on oral health and its impact on overall well-being. A career in dentistry is not only intellectually challenging but also provides a platform to make a significant difference in people’s lives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a U.S. dentist was $156,240 in 2018, reflecting the high demand and value of dental professionals in healthcare. The journey to becoming a dentist is rigorous, requiring a combination of academic excellence, hands-on experience, and a deep understanding of dental sciences and patient care.

Step 1: Educational Foundation

Before embarking on the path to becoming a dentist, a strong educational foundation is crucial. Aspiring dentists typically begin with:

  • Bachelor’s Degree Requirements: A bachelor’s degree is the first step, where students major in sciences like biology or chemistry to prepare for dental school.
  • Prerequisite Courses for Dental School: Dental schools require completion of specific prerequisite courses. These often include:
    • Biology with lab
    • General Chemistry with lab
    • Organic Chemistry with lab
    • Physics
    • Courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, biochemistry, and English composition are also highly recommended.
  • Importance of GPA and Academic Performance: A high GPA is essential for dental school admissions. It reflects the student’s ability to handle challenging coursework and lays a solid foundation for advanced studies in dentistry.
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Step 2: Dental Admission Test (DAT)

The Dental Admission Test, a critical component in the journey to becoming a dentist, assesses a candidate’s suitability for dental school. The DAT is a comprehensive exam that includes:

  • Multiple-choice questions covering natural sciences, perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning.
  • A scoring range from 1 to 30, with 19 being the national average.

Prospective dental students should aim for a high score to stand out in the competitive admissions process. Preparing for the DAT

requires a thorough understanding of the exam format and content, often necessitating dedicated study and practice. Resources and guidance for DAT preparation can be found through the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), offering insights into Preparing for Dental School.

Step 3: Applying to Dental School

The application process to dental school is a critical step in the journey to becoming a dentist. It involves several key components:

  • Selecting the Right Dental School: Prospective students should research to find a dental school that aligns with their career goals and interests. Factors to consider include curriculum, clinical exposure, specialty training opportunities, and residency placement rates.
  • Application Process and Requirements: The application process typically involves submitting academic transcripts, DAT scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Some schools may also require interviews.
  • Holistic Admissions Approach: Many dental schools, like the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, use a holistic admissions process. This approach evaluates candidates based on academic achievements, DAT scores, extracurricular activities, shadowing experiences, and personal qualities. It’s important for applicants to demonstrate a strong interest in dentistry, a passion for science, and a commitment to service and leadership.

Understanding the Dental Profession

A career in dentistry requires more than just academic excellence. It demands a unique blend of skills and qualities:

  • Personal Qualities for Success: Successful dentists possess strong spatial awareness, excellent hand-eye coordination, and the ability to perform intricate procedures. They are also empathetic, compassionate, and skilled in communication, managing patient anxieties and expectations effectively.
  • The Role of a Dentist: Beyond treating oral health issues, dentists play a crucial role in educating patients about preventive care, diagnosing oral diseases, and coordinating with other healthcare professionals. They must stay abreast of advancements in dental technology and treatments to provide the best care possible.

The Financial and Time Commitment

Prospective dental students must be prepared for the significant time and financial investment required for dental education. The cost of dental school can be substantial, with the median debt for dental school graduates in 2018 being $280,410, according to the ADEA. Balancing the financial aspects with the time commitment of a four-year dental program is crucial for those considering this career path.

The journey to becoming a dentist is challenging yet rewarding. It requires a strong academic foundation, successful completion of the DAT, a thoughtful application process, and a deep commitment to the field of dentistry. Aspiring dentists must be prepared for the financial and time investments and possess the personal qualities necessary for success in this dynamic and fulfilling profession.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will explore the advanced stages of becoming a dentist, including comprehensive training in dental school, the critical process of obtaining licensure, and the exciting possibilities of specializing in various fields of dentistry.

Specialization and Professional Development

Step 4: Dental School Training

Dental school is where the theoretical knowledge and practical skills required for a successful career in dentistry are honed. This phase is crucial for developing a deep understanding of dental sciences and gaining hands-on experience in dental procedures.

  • Curriculum and Hands-on Experience: Dental school typically spans four years, combining rigorous academic coursework with clinical training. The curriculum covers a broad range of subjects, from basic sciences to specialized dental topics. Clinical rotations are integral, providing students with real-world experience in treating patients under supervision.
  • Types of Dental Degrees: There are two primary dental degrees – Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) and Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD). Despite different names, these degrees have similar curriculums and are generally considered equivalent.
  • Clinical Experience and Residencies: In addition to the standard curriculum, dental students often participate in residencies, gaining more focused experience in specific areas of dentistry. These residencies are essential for those looking to specialize and can range from general practice to specific fields like orthodontics or oral surgery.

Step 5: Licensure and Specialization

After completing dental school, graduates must obtain a license to practice. This step is critical to ensure that all practicing dentists meet the necessary standards of care and expertise.

  • State Licensing Requirements: Licensing requirements vary by state but typically include passing the National Board Dental Examination and a state or regional clinical examination. These exams assess a dentist’s competency in both theoretical knowledge and practical skills.
  • Overview of Dental Specialties: The American Dental Association (ADA) recognizes several dental specialties, including endodontics, periodontics, prosthodontics, and more. Specializing requires additional training and education, often in the form of a residency program.
  • Deciding Whether to Specialize: The decision to specialize should consider factors like personal interest, the additional time and cost of specialty training, and the potential for higher earnings in specialized fields.

The Role of Continuing Education in Dentistry

Continuing education is a cornerstone of a successful dental career. Dentists must stay updated with the latest advancements in dental technology and treatment methods to provide the best care to their patients.

  • Importance of Lifelong Learning: The field of dentistry is constantly evolving, with new research, techniques, and technologies emerging regularly. Continuing education helps dentists stay current and maintain their licensure.
  • Opportunities for Professional Growth: Many dentists pursue additional certifications or training in areas like *cosmetic dentistry

*, dental implants, or laser dentistry. This not only enhances their skill set but also broadens the range of services they can offer to patients.

Challenges and Rewards of a Dental Career

A career in dentistry, while demanding, offers numerous rewards, including the opportunity to make a significant impact on patients’ oral and overall health.

  • Balancing Work and Personal Life: Dentists often face the challenge of balancing a busy practice with personal life. Effective time management and the ability to delegate tasks are crucial skills for maintaining this balance.
  • The Satisfaction of Patient Care: One of the most rewarding aspects of dentistry is the ability to improve patients’ quality of life. Whether it’s restoring a patient’s smile or relieving pain, the impact of dental work is immediate and gratifying.

The Business Aspect of Dentistry

For those who choose to open their own practices, understanding the business side of dentistry is as important as clinical skills.

  • Practice Management Skills: Running a dental practice requires skills in areas like staff management, marketing, and finance. Many dentists take courses or seek mentorship to develop these skills.
  • Navigating the Healthcare Landscape: Dentists must also navigate the complexities of healthcare regulations, insurance, and patient billing. Staying informed about changes in healthcare policies is essential for the smooth operation of a dental practice.

The journey to becoming a dentist is a blend of rigorous academic training, hands-on clinical experience, and continuous professional development. It requires a commitment to lifelong learning and a passion for patient care. Whether choosing to specialize or practice general dentistry, the field offers diverse opportunities and the satisfaction of making a tangible difference in people’s lives.

FAQs Section

What undergraduate courses are required for dental school?

Most dental schools require a bachelor’s degree with a strong emphasis on science courses. Key prerequisites typically include biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and often courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, biochemistry, and English composition.

How important is the DAT score for dental school admissions?

The Dental Admission Test (DAT) score is a critical factor in dental school admissions. It assesses a candidate’s aptitude for the study of dentistry and is used alongside GPA and other criteria to evaluate an applicant’s readiness for dental school.

What are the differences between DDS and DMD degrees?

The Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) and Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD) are equivalent degrees with similar curriculums. The distinction is in name only, and both degrees qualify graduates to practice dentistry.

What are the various dental specialties recognized by the ADA?

The American Dental Association (ADA) recognizes several specialties, including endodontics, orthodontics, periodontics, prosthodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, pediatric dentistry, and more. Each specialty requires additional training and certification.

What are the state licensing requirements for dentists?

Licensing requirements vary by state but generally include passing the National Board Dental Examination and a state or regional clinical examination. These exams assess a dentist’s competency in both theoretical knowledge and practical skills.


In conclusion, the journey to becoming a dentist is a multifaceted and rewarding path, demanding a strong foundation in science, successful completion of the Dental Admission Test (DAT), and a rigorous dental school curriculum. Whether opting for a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD), dental students must immerse themselves in both theoretical learning and practical clinical experiences. Post-graduation, the pursuit of licensure and potential specialization opens doors to various fields within dentistry, each requiring additional training and expertise. The role of a dentist extends beyond clinical skills, encompassing patient education, empathy, and staying abreast of advancements in dental technology and treatments.

For those venturing into private practice, understanding the business aspects of dentistry is equally important. Ultimately, a career in dentistry is not just about treating oral health issues; it’s about enhancing the quality of life for patients, making it a profoundly satisfying profession for those committed to the long-term journey of learning, growth, and patient care.