What Education Is Needed to Become A Dentist?

Whether you’re curious about your dentist’s educational background or have an interest in pursuing the profession, learning what education is needed to become a dentist is important.

The requirements to become a dentist are very severe such as ensuring a high academic achievement quality and several years of practical education before seeing patients. 

In this article, I’ll highlight every basic detail about becoming a dentist including the educational needs a dentist must take in order to become a certified dentist.

What Education Is Needed To Become A Dentist

In 2020, the U.S. News and world reports ranked dentistry as the second-best career in the U.S. 

Dentists are doctors who diagnose and treat conditions and diseases of the mouth. They also educate their patients on proper oral care and other preventative measures. 

Dentists may treat things like cavities, chipped teeth, gum disease, and more. Preventative care may include flossing, using fluoride, and placing sealants on teeth. 

Dentists also prescribe medication for mouth conditions and take measurements for dental appliances. 

If a dentist works in private practice, they often have administrative responsibilities as well, such as bookkeeping and ordering supplies. Some dentists choose to specialize in a particular area of the field.

In order to become a dentist, an individual will need to earn either a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree or a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree. 

Most dentists will be listed as having a DDS degree, but both DDS and DMD degrees are basically the same things and the distinction is just made by the university awarding the degree. 

Both DDS and DMD degrees indicate an individual graduated from an accredited dental school with the same curriculum requirements.

Read Also: Missouri Dental Schools With Program Descriptions

Dentist Responsibilities

Dentists help people care for their teeth and maintain good oral health. 

Many specialties within the field exist, all with slightly different responsibilities. 

Some common responsibilities of a Dentist include:

  • Fixing or removing damaged teeth
  • Filling cavities
  • Performing exams and evaluating x-rays to determine a patient’s health
  • Developing treatment plans to deal with any dental health issues
  • Administering or prescribing medications to decrease pain and improve patient health
  • Interacting with patients and instructing them on proper oral care
  • Measuring and fitting dental appliances
  • Referring patients to a specialist if needed 

What Education Is Needed To Become A Dentist

Below are the three necessary educational programs that a dentistry student needs Inorder to become a dentist.

  • Undergraduate Program

Prior to attending dental school, an individual must complete at least 90 specified credits. 

Most dental schools today will require the completion of an undergraduate program. Credits must include biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, anatomy, biochemistry, immunology, physiology, math, and English.

Most that are interested in dental school will choose to follow pre-dentistry, biological sciences, or physiological sciences-related majors in order to meet the prerequisite requirements for dental school. 

However, unrelated majors may also be accepted into dental school if they meet the prerequisite requirements. 

Whatever the undergraduate program, it is important to note that GPAs will play a critical role in getting into dental school.

  • Dental Administration Test (DAT)

The DAT is a dental education admission test that an individual must take prior to applying to dental school. 

The DAT is administered year-round in the United States including Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands and Canada. 

The DAT is scored between 0 and 30 and consists of multiple-choice questions that cover: 

  • Survey of the Natural Sciences, 
  • Perceptual Ability, 
  • Reading Comprehension, and
  • Quantitative Reasoning. 

The DAT program offers practice tests at a cost to help individuals understand the types of questions that will be asked.

According to Kaplan Test Prep, in order to be considered competitive, an individual will want to score above the 50th percentile, which is approximately 17 for each section. 

Kaplan also states that performing consistently across the board is preferred over obtaining a very high score on one section and a very low score on another section.

  • Doctoral Degree

Most dental programs are small and admission will be competitive. Dental school admission requirements will vary from school to school but typically, every school will review academic qualifications, results from the DAT, GPA, letters of recommendation, personal interviews, and any dental office shadowing experience.

Many dental schools also require personal interviews to assess qualities like the desire to help others, self-confidence, the ability to meet challenges, the ability to get along with others, and the ability to work independently.

It is advisable that an individual applies for admission to dental school at least a year in advance of the planned enrollment date.

Licensure For Dentist

Finally, prior to being able to actually practice dentistry, an individual must undergo a licensure process. 

In the United States, licensure requirements vary by state but all applicants must meet the required education, written examination, and clinical examination requirements. 

Every state will have a dental board that will have more specific information.


Areas Of Specialization For A Dentist

While most dentists practice general dentistry, some choose to undertake additional training in order to work in one of nine specialties. 

Among specialist dentists are orthodontists, who use braces and related dental appliances to move or straighten teeth; periodontists, who treat the dental issues related to gums and bone; and oral and maxillofacial surgeons, who operate on teeth, gums, and jaws. 

while an endodontist specializes in the treatment of diseased or injured tooth pulp.

Pediatric dentists focus on treating children and patients with special needs. 

Prosthodontists use bridges, crowns, and dentures to help patients with missing teeth, while root canals are performed by endodontists. 

Other areas of specialty include oral and maxillofacial pathology, oral and maxillofacial radiology, and dental public health.

It is important to note that you must complete between 2-4 years of postgraduate study in your specialty, along with a 2-year postgraduate residency. 

In addition, you may be required to take a special state-administered examination. 

Once your training has been completed, you may pursue voluntary board certification in your specialty.

Requirements To Become A Dentist

All dentists must obtain a valid state license to practice in their state. 

Usually, this requires them to pass the National Board Dental Examinations, as well as any required state exam. 

Dentists who are trained in a particular specialty must also hold a license in that specialty field, which may require another state exam.

Dentist Salary And Employment  

The U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 7% increase in the employment of dentists between the years of 2018 and 2028. 

This increase was attributed to a rise in the demand for dental services for the aging population. 

The BLS noted that dentists earn a median annual salary of $155,600 as of May 2019.


Becoming a dentist takes many years of dedication, focus, and hard work, but by planning ahead of time, you can make your own path to dentistry much smoother. 

I hope that this article has been helpful in enlightening you on what education you need to become a dentist.

Best wishes on your path to become a dentist.

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