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How to Become a Dentist

Dentistry is a rewarding and well-respected field with a history dating back to ancient times. Thankfully, modern dentistry has come a long way, and dentistry is heavily regulated in the U.S.

Aspiring dentists spend many long hours in education and examination to receive a dental degree and license and are paid handsomely in return. The field is diverse, with many jobs and specializations across the profession. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dentists across the U.S. earn an average of $80,000 to $300,000 a year.

Steps to Becoming a DentistHow Long?
1Complete a Bachelor’s degree, or, for some dental schools, an Associate’s degree.2-4 years
2Take the Dental Admission Test (DAT) in order to apply to dental schools.
3Graduate from a CODA-accredited dental school4 years
4Take your state dental board’s required tests for dentists.

Despite the high demand and varying fields that create many jobs, dentistry is a challenging field to get into. States require dentists to have a dental license before they can practice dentistry. Some of the requirements include exams and background checks. Formal education is also required.

Dental schools have their requirements, as well. Grade point average and course prerequisites are just some restrictions. Admission into dental school is also very aggressive, with only about 50 % acceptance rates.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Dentist

Many dental schools require a bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement to enter. This means an initial investment of four years. However, not all schools are like this. Some require 90 hours in specific areas, while some will accept a two-year course covering 60 hours total.

After completing the required courses to enter a degree, one must complete a dental program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). These range from three to four years, with most programs taking four years. This will earn you a degree that most states will recognize.

Therefore, it takes around six to eight years to become a dentist, from high school graduation to the issuance of a dental license.

However, this route will only allow dentists to perform the duties of a general dentist. There are many specialized fields in dentistry, and dental universities offer advanced dental programs for these.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Pediatric Dentist?

Pediatric dentistry is one of the specialized fields of dentistry. It is chiefly defined by the age group these dentists serve. Pediatric dentists treat children and teenagers like a general dentist does. This includes cleanings, inspections and the occasional filling. However, they must also be able to care for the mental well-being of these patients appropriately.

Pediatric dentistry requires dental students to attend additional schooling. Becoming a pediatric dentist requires a four-year degree, followed by four years of dental school. Then, they must attend a post-graduate dental residency and learn about primary and permanent teeth and attitude management. These residencies generally last two to three additional years.

It takes approximately 10 to 11 years to become a pediatric dentist in the U.S.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Cosmetic Dentist?

Cosmetic dentistry is a subset of general dentistry. Most general dentists perform cosmetic procedures as part of their daily tasks. Therefore, no additional time is required here.

However, there are some steps you can take to market yourself as a cosmetic dentist more efficiently. You can pursue a fellowship in aesthetic dentistry to gain hands-on experience with these dental procedures. A fellowship allows students to understand better the depths of cosmetic dentistry and how it is a broader field, covering all elements of general dentistry while prioritizing aesthetic appeal.

Including secondary schooling and dental school, it takes at least eight years, possibly more, to become a cosmetic dentist. You can stop after your post-grad degree or take additional courses that focus entirely on cosmetic procedures.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Dentist

While the dental profession is gratifying in that dentists help improve the lives of individuals from all walks of life and are paid well for it, studying dental medicine and becoming a dentist comes at a steep price.

First, an aspiring dentist must attend a university or technical college. During this time, they must take the required dental admissions test to get into dental school. Once they have taken the test, they must also apply to dental school, which is not cheap.

After you finish dental school, you must apply for a dental license. Each state has its own requirements for the application and an associated fee. All applications require at least one post-graduation examination, and many require two or three.

Bachelor’s Degree

Higher education in the U.S. is more expensive now than ever. In-state and out-of-state tuition for dental students ranges significantly from state to state. A public school’s average in-state tuition and fees are $10,000 annually. For out-of-state, it is $30,000 a year. So, in-state students will pay around $40,000 for a degree, and out-of-state will pay $120,000 for a degree, on average.

Dental Admissions Test

The Dental Admission Test (DAT) is a standardized test that dental school applicants must take to become a dentist. Most people that prepare thoroughly will only need to take this test once. It costs $495 for one attempt.

Dental School Applications

Dental schools require the American Dental Education Association Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (ADEA AADSAS) for their applications. The first application costs $251, and all subsequent applications cost $108.

Because most dental school acceptance rates are no higher than 5%, many resources recommend applying to 10 to 15 dental schools. That’s between $1,100 and $1,600 in application fees alone.

Dental School Tuition

Naturally, this is the bulk of your expenses. Dental schools utilize the best technology and professors and train students using cutting-edge techniques. This comes at a steep price.

Some schools can cost around $100,000 for all four years, while the country’s top schools can cost $500,000 for tuition and other associated fees. While estimates on average vary greatly based on public/private and in-state/out-of-state, one can expect to spend, at minimum, $100,000 to $150,000 on tuition during dental school.

State and National Dental Boards and Licensure

The board examinations are practical tests of competency administered after completing dental school. All states require some form of board examination. Some states require multiple tests for their license application. These exams can range in price from $200 to $500.

License fees vary from state to state as well. Many have a non-refundable application fee of $250. There is often an issuance fee as well. Depending on your applying state, this can range from $250 to $750.

How Hard is it to Become a Dentist?

Becoming a dentist can be a highly challenging feat. It requires dedication and a significant investment of time and money to prepare to practice dentistry.

“Hard” is subjective. Some people believe playing music is hard. Others think doing a split is hard. Some people will find becoming a dentist hard. But if you ask others, they might not feel that way. They may find it so fulfilling that difficulty is hardly a factor. They might view the profession as a great opportunity and not consider it in terms of difficulty.

How to Get Into Dental School

All states require graduation from a CODA-accredited school when applying for a dental license. So, dental school is the first step for anyone who wants to become a dentist. But as mentioned, most dental schools have tight restrictions. Of the thousands of applicants each year, each school only accepts maybe 70 to 80 students.

The first step is getting into a four-year university or technical college with all the required courses. Once enrolled in a university, meeting with a course advisor is highly recommended. It would be best to decide early on what dental school or schools you want to apply to and tell the advisor. This will determine the path you will take in university.

What Major or Undergraduate Degree is Best for Dental School

As mentioned, dental schools often require applicants to have completed a bachelor’s degree before they apply. Some accept associate degrees as well. There isn’t a single “best” major for dental school. You do not always need a specific degree to apply to most dental schools.

While dental programs require a degree, many do not specify what degree you need. Instead, they have a list of prerequisite courses and a set GPA you must have. So, the idea is that someone will go to university and major in a field that will cover the prerequisites. The three recommended majors are biology, chemistry and physics.

There is no promise that your major will cover all the necessary courses required by the dental school you want to apply to. This is where an advisor plays an important role. They can recommend and modify the courses for your degree, allowing you to graduate with the necessary prerequisites for dental school.

You can also consult your advisor on whether a pre-dental course is offered at the university. Some schools have a pre-dental program that gives students a head start on their way into dental school. Because dental schools have high-GPA requirements, pre-dentistry programs also usually have high requirements.

Taking the Dental Admission Test

Just like universities in the U.S. require SAT or ACT scores, dental schools also require an assessment when applying. DAT is the standard test dental schools in the U.S. and Canada use to determine whether applicants are competent in relevant fields. Applicants must perform due diligence when preparing for the test because it is arduous.

The DAT is four and a half hours long and has 280 multiple-choice questions covering various topics from chemistry and biology to reading and comprehension. One can take the test year-round, but the fee for a single attempt is $495. This covers the test fee and score distribution. While a single cost might not seem too awful, failure comes at a high price.

There has been a recent revision to the retest policy. All students who fail the test must wait 60 days before retesting. You can only take the test four times within 12 months.

If taking the test three or more times, you must provide evidence of a recent dental school application. After the fifth attempt, you can only test once a year. Of course, each attempt will cost $495 as well.

So, failing will set you back on money and time. The administration board for the DAT advises students in their junior year of university to apply and take the DAT. This gives students the time needed to test while the relevant information is still fresh in their minds.

It also allows students to take advantage of the limited number of fee waivers offered by the DAT administration. The waiver covers half the cost of a single test and can only be claimed once if you meet the following criteria:

  • You are a First-time examinee
  • You have not previously received a partial fee waiver
  • You are a U.S. citizen or resident alien
  • You have demonstrated financial hardship
  • You have received financial aid from your university

How to Best Prepare for a Dental School Interview

A dental school interview is just like any other interview. The best way for prospective dental students to prepare is to research the school and program they intend to enter. Your dedication to this knowledge shows an interviewer the breadth of your skill and intentions. It will also help you to avoid questions that a quick google search could answer, which shows the interviewer that you are capable of more profound thinking.

Most importantly, have confidence. You made it to the interview, so the school sees potential in you. Use this to your advantage and show what you are capable of. Be prepared to discuss yourself and display the exceptional skill that landed you in the interview. It is wise to practice mock interviews to build confidence.

How Many Dental Schools are in the U.S.?

Many schools and programs offer dental education in the U.S. However, there is a difference between dental hygienists, who handle general dental hygiene, dental assistants, who assist the dental hygienists and dentist, and a dentist, who performs a more comprehensive, more intense range of tasks. Aspiring dentists must obtain a Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.) or a Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) degree. These are only offered at CODA-accredited dental schools.

Currently, 67 dental schools in the U.S. offer a D.M.D. or D.D.S. degree. Many of these schools also offer advanced dental programs or residencies for dental professionals considering post-graduate education.

What are the Best Dental Schools

Since the number of dental schools in the U.S. is not remarkably high, and admission requirements to each are so prestigious, all dental programs offered are respectable. If you are considering attending dental school, here is an overview of some of the top dental schools in the country.

University of Michigan School of Dentistry

The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is widely considered to be the number one dental school in the U.S. It has some of the highest standards for applicants, with an average GPA of 3.8 and a DAT score of 22. They accept an estimated 100 students a year.

The school is dedicated to serving the public and exceeding the needs of students. The school has 120 full-time staff members that manage 15 unique dental programs, from periodontics to oral and maxillofacial surgery. As the lead driving force in the dental industry, the school is at the forefront of research and innovation in the U.S. and the world.

Harvard School of Dental Medicine

Harvard is never far from the top of all school rankings, and its dental program is not lacking either. With the mission to foster a diverse range of individuals into global leaders in their lives and dentistry, Harvard is rated highly among dental schools. It has an average GPA of 3.85 and a DAT score of 22.

The school serves the public and treats over 25,000 patients a year. Students spend four years working alongside peers and professors to treat these patients.

Harvard has a unique model for students. Rather than the standard oral health care, it touts the philosophy that oral health and primary care are interchangeable. So, dental students learn alongside clinical medicine students to learn more than just dental health.

University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill Adams School of Dentistry

The University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill Adams School of Dentistry (UNC) is rated highly and was the first dental school in North Carolina. Established in 1950, the school has spent 70 years honing its teaching models and producing some of the world’s top dentists. The average DAT here is 22, and the GPA is 3.6.

They serve the community in North Carolina and strive to become a model for oral health care and management in the industry at large. TUNC uses leading technology and innovative methods while encouraging students to think creatively. This produces future leaders, scientists and innovators that have and will continue to change oral care.

University of California—San Francisco School of Dentistry

The University of California—San Francisco School of Dentistry (UCSF) is a leading institution in oral and craniofacial health. Since 1881, the school has evolved to offer a wide range of dental programs.

UCSF has a D.D.S. degree program, post-graduate programs and many dental residencies. The average DAT score is 22.8, and the GPA is 3.65.

UCSF has been ranked the top school for research funding for 25 years, leading the country in innovation and technique. Students work in the dental school alongside peers and faculty to tackle over 120,000 patient visits a year.

The students also do dental practice at many community-based clinics around the area. The hands-on experience is rewarding and thorough.

University of Washington School of Dentistry

The University of Washington School of Dentistry (UW) is one of the leading universities in the western U.S. UW promotes diversity and excellence in its student body and works tirelessly to uphold the standards and responsibilities placed on it by the surrounding community and the world. UW has an average GPA of 3.5 and a DAT score of 20.9.

The school boasts many different post-graduation options, from orthodontics to oral medicine. Their general dentistry program offers students various experiences covering the biological sciences and clinical practice at all degree stages. Students at UW can see patients in a clinical setting as early as their first semester.

For a guide to dental schools by state, please select below:

Other professions to consider include pharmacist, for which you will need a PharmD degree.