Many students will start their journey by asking the question “How to Become a Dentist.” It’s important to know what to expect and have an idea of how your timeline should go. Not only is it a long journey, but it’s a huge investment. Nearly all dental schools will require a bachelor’s degree, so you have to take at least 4 years of school before even applying. There are 66 different dental schools in the United States and all but 1 of them require 4 years of study. 

Dental schools won’t require you to have a specific major, but you’ll need to meet all of the entry requirements. After completing dental school, you’ll receive a DDS or DMD. These are very similar and the biggest difference is that a DDS is that the first dental school in the United States, Baltimore College of Medicine, started handing out Doctor of Dental Surgery degrees in 1840. Not too long after that, Harvard opened a dental school. All of their degrees are in Latin so they award a Doctor Medicinae Dentariae, aka Doctor of Dental Medicine, degree. Universities can choose which degree to award, but the majority sticks with DDS.

How Long Does it Take?

One of the biggest questions people ask about how to become a dentist is how long it actually takes. It’s going to take at least 8 years to become a dentist. You’ll need to take 4 years of schooling to earn an undergraduate Bachelor’s degree and 4 years to earn a DDS or DMD. After schooling, you’ll probably need to take a few years of residency training. There are a few things you’ll need to do before going into dental school, which we talk about below.

Prerequisites

The exact requirements or prerequisites are going to differ from dental school to dental school, but most of them will require many of the same types of classes. You’ll want to talk with the dental school you’re applying to, but you can see some of the common prerequisites listed below.

  • 8 hours of Biology with labs
  • 8 hours of Physics
  • 8 hours of English
  • 8 hours of General Chemistry with labs
  • 8 hours of Organic Chemistry with labs

It’s also recommended to have an undergraduate bachelor’s degree. 

Dental Admissions Test (DAT)

You’ll also need to take the Dental Admissions Test or DAT. It’s a good idea to take this test around 1 year before you actually plan on attending dental school. The test is completely computerized and measures things like how you do academically, how much understanding you have of various sciences, and how well you process sensory information. Keep in mind, it’s recommended that you don’t take the DAT until you’ve taken at least 1 year of college courses in subjects like biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry.

Applying for Schools

Since it can take quite a bit of time to get into dental school, it’s important to apply as early as possible. Before you get accepted, the admissions team at each college will consider information like your DAT scores, previous academic performance, recommendation letters, shadowing experiences, and personal interviews. Many will also have you come in for a face to face interview to see how you do with things like self-confidence, unexpected challenges, and how well you can work on your own. If you want to apply at multiple dental schools at once, you can pay a fee and use the services from the Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS).

Different Career Sectors

You’ll want to make sure you think about what career sector you’ll want to work in. There are quite a few to choose from and some specialties will require a certain amount of years in residency. Listed below are some of the most popular sectors and a little information about each.

  • Private practice: a solo practice or partnership with other dentists
  • Academic dentistry: a practice that works with patients and students
  • Public health dentistry: dentistry that focuses on helping the public
  • Research: behind the scenes learning about new dentistry knowledge
  • International healthcare: dentistry that is usually done through large corporations (WHO, UNESCO, etc) to provide dentistry services to people abroad
  • Hospital dentistry: services are provided in a hospital setting, especially in the ER and operating rooms

Residency Options

If you decide to get into a specialized sector or field, you’ll probably need to complete a certain amount of time in residency. Most of the time, you’ll get a list of dentists or practices that do residency and you can apply to the ones you’re interested in. To help you narrow down your options, we’ve listed the 12 specialties that are recognized by the American Dental Association.

  • General Dentistry
  • Family Dentistry
  • Dental Anesthesiology
  • Dental Public Health
  • Endodontics
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Orthodontics
  • Pediatric Dentistry
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontist 

Tips for High Schoolers

High school can be a hectic time, but it’s important to start thinking about your future. For those interested in becoming a dentist after school, having a few tips can make things a little easier. Look below to see 3 tips you can use to land your dream job.

Shadow and Talk to a Dentist

One of the easiest things you can do is shadow a dentist. Not only will you see real-world situations, but you can ask any questions you have. You’ll be able to see the day to day activities of a dentist and have a better idea of whether or not it’s something you still want to do. Not all dentists are willing to answer questions or let someone shadow them, so make sure you talk with multiple dentists to find one that will. A good place to start would be your family or community dentist.

Take Several Science Courses

Since dental school has a lot of science involved, it’s a good idea to take as many science courses as you can in high school. The great thing is that many high school science classes will give you an idea of what kind of sciences you’ll experience in dental school. It’s completely fine if you don’t like every type of science class, but you should take classes related to biology and chemistry to build up your knowledge.

Join Relevant Extracurricular Activities

Finally, it would be a good idea to join extracurricular activities that are relevant to your situation. While these activities don’t necessarily have to be dental related, you’ll want to find things that can help you interact with the public and build meaningful relationships. With that said, though, you can do activities that just interest you and you don’t want to be that person that joins every activity just to do it. The main thing is to keep most of your focus on dental school and doing things that’s going to make your application stand out above the rest.


Now that you know how to become a dentist, you can decide if it’s a career path you want to follow. Becoming a dentist is a long journey that pays off in the end. If you think you’d be great in this career or want to explore the field more, apply for our Pre-Dentistry Internship Program today!