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How to Become a Dentist in California

A career as a Dentist will see you working one on one with patients from all walks of life. Dentists are an essential part of the healthcare industry, and the career will not likely slow down anytime soon. With the aging population across the U.S., more people than before will require more frequent and more involved dental care.

A dentist should have a pleasant bedside manner and an interest in helping others. The path to becoming a dentist is not short and entry to dental school is competitive. With hard work and perseverance, a long and rewarding career awaits the right candidate.

California State Requirements

The two most common paths to becoming a dentist in the state are Licensure by Clinical Exam or Licensure by Residency.

For students wishing to qualify by clinical exam, they must have met the following:

  1. Graduate from a school accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), the Commission on Dental Accreditation Canada, or approved by the Dental Board of California.
  2. Take and pass parts I and II of the National Board Dental Examination
  3. Take and pass the California Law and Ethics Examination
  4. Take and pass the Western Regional Examining Board (WREB) Examination

For those planning to qualify through residency, they must meet the following:

  1. Graduate from a CODA-accredited or CDAC-accredited dental school.
  2. Complete one year of a CODA-accredited general practice residency or advanced programs in general dentistry. Applicants must have their residency program director complete the Certificate of Clinical Residency Completion (residency 1) form, found here
  3. Take and pass parts I and II of the National Board Dental Examination
  4. Take and pass the California Law and Ethics Examination
  5. Not have failed the WREB examination within the last five years of applying

California Dental Schools

University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA)

Located in Los Angeles, UCLA is a public land-grant research university established in 1882.

UCLA’s four-year Doctor of Dental Surgery program prepares students to embrace the changing technological face of oral health care. Graduates of the program enter the workforce ready to deliver patient care in a socially sensitive and responsible way.

Biomedical sciences and pre-clinical laboratory courses form the core of the program’s first two years. Direct patient care begins early in the second year, and students have many opportunities for personalized professional development. Additionally, students must complete three nine-week courses during the summer session.

University of California – San Francisco (UCSF)

Located in the City of San Francisco, the school is a leading academic medical center focusing on connecting world-class education, research and patient care.

UCSF’s school of dentistry exposes students to a challenging curriculum that balances clinical experience, research and community service. Students may choose from five streams of study, Biomedical Sciences, Dental Sciences, Patient-Centered Care, Preventative and Restorative Dental Services and Scientific Methods.

Students study for over four whole years. To be admitted, students must have completed at least 139 quarter units at the college level. The recommendation is that students meet these prerequisites before taking the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). See here for specific requirements.

University of Southern California (USC)

Located in historic south-central Los Angeles, the institution is the oldest private research university in the state of California.

The Ostrow School of Dentistry at USC sees students exposed to significant pre-clinical experience, education and training in restorative dentistry right from day one. Students provide free dental care to their community through the school’s mobile clinic and multiple off-site locations and events, preparing them to enter the industry.

The four-year program requires students to take on a full course load during summers and throughout the year. The school has a comprehensive list of requirements to be accepted into the program.

University of the Pacific

Located in the city of Stockton, in California’s central valley, the school is a private Methodist-affiliated University chartered in 1851.

The Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry offers particularly motivated students the opportunity to complete their four-year Doctor of Dental Surgery program in just three calendar years. The emphasis for this accelerated path is on active learning within small case-based group projects.

Students learn pre-clinical skills in the state-of-the-art simulation laboratory in preparation for direct patient care in their second year. The application window opens on May 10 each year and closes on December 1. Refer to this guide for specific requirements.

Loma Linda University

Located in the city of Loma Linda, in San Bernardino County, the school is a private Seventh-day Adventist health science University.

The focus of the DDS program at Loma Linda is to prepare students for a career providing high-quality dental care that is comprehensive in nature, preventative in purpose, based on sound biological principles and focused on service.

The program consists of 292 units and will take students four years to complete. The school recommends a 3.5 GPA for students to be considered competitive applicants. A list of complete requirements is listed here.

Western University of Health Sciences

Located in the city of Pomona, in Los Angeles County, the school is a private medical school and health sciences university.

At the College of Dental Medicine, students learn from an integrated team of health professionals who expose them to many clinical opportunities. Students train to enter the oral healthcare industry as sensitive, humane and technically competent healthcare professionals.

The full-time four-year clinical program treats students as members of the profession from the first day and incorporates various educational methodologies. View this guide for detailed admission requirements.

Opportunities for Dentists in California

Prospective dentists in California have a bright outlook ahead of them. According to O-Net Online, the occupation should grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, an increase of roughly 880 jobs per year. This increase is faster than the national average for all other occupations.

New graduates can find work in both urban and rural areas. Still, the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward and San Diego-Carlsbad areas make the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s top ten list for most Dentists employed in a metropolitan area, which is worth considering.

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