How to Become a Cosmetic Dentist

April 25, 2024


Reviewed by:

Luke Hartstein

Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

If you’ve ever considered a career in cosmetic dentistry, stick around. Here we cover everything you need to know about how to become a cosmetic dentist.

Cosmetic dentistry is a popular choice amongst future dental candidates, especially ones who love a gleaming white smile. Providing patients with their dream smiles can be a fulfilling career filled with transformation and gratitude. If you’ve ever wondered: “how can I become a cosmetic dentist?” This article is for you. 

Here we’ll explore each of the necessary steps to becoming a cosmetic dentist, and go over some tips, career insights, and answer a few FAQs. From developing your skills and knowledge to building your practice, we'll cover everything you need to know to get started on the path to becoming a successful cosmetic dentist. 

Let’s get started!

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Steps to Becoming a Cosmetic Dentist

Becoming a cosmetic dentist requires a significant investment of time, effort, and commitment. Below are the steps you need to take to become a cosmetic dentist, as well as how long it takes to become a cosmetic dentist

1. Complete an Undergraduate Degree

You'll need to complete a Bachelor's degree in order to apply to dental school. Although it’s not totally necessary, you should major in a science-related field in order to take the necessary dental school prerequisite courses. These courses vary, but usually include the following:

  • Biology with lab
  • Chemistry with lab
  • Organic chemistry with lab
  • Physics with lab

As mentioned above, dental school prerequisite course requirements vary between schools, so you should always make sure that you research the individual requirements for each of your target schools while building your course schedule. Additionally, these courses are necessary for dental school preparation as they provide you with crucial foundational knowledge.

2. Apply to Dental School

You should begin preparing to apply to dental school a year before you submit your application. This will allow you ample time to complete prerequisites, take the DAT, acquire letters of recommendation, and complete all other essential materials. You should also start checking application due dates and cycles early to ensure you’re on track.

If you’re currently in the process of applying to dental school and are seeking guidance, consider working with an experienced admissions counselor. Admissions coaches ensure all of your materials are unique, memorable, on time, and help you stay motivated throughout the entire process. 

3. Earn Your Doctorate Degree

Congratulations! Once you’ve gotten into dental school, it's time to complete your DDS/DMD degree. This typically takes four years, during which you'll study dental anatomy, pathology, and pharmacology among other subjects. You'll also gain hands-on experience in clinical settings, working with patients under the supervision of experienced dentists.

4. Obtain Your Dental License

After graduating from dental school, you'll need to obtain your dental license to practice. Requirements vary by state, but typically involve passing written and practical exams. 

According to the ADA, the majority of US states require a DDS or DMD degree from a CODA accredited  dental program as well as the Integrated National Board Dental Examination (INBDE) in order to practice as a dentist

5. Gain Experience in General Dentistry

Before specializing in cosmetic dentistry, it's important to gain experience in general dentistry. This will give you a solid foundation in basic dental procedures and help you build your patient base. It’s worth noting that at this stage, residency is not required.

6. Complete Post-Graduate Training in Cosmetic Dentistry

Once you’ve entered the workforce and gained general dentistry experience, you can decide to pursue a dental specialty. In order to specialize in cosmetic dentistry, you'll need to complete a post-graduate training program. 

These programs may include residency programs, workshops, and/or continuing education courses. You'll learn about the latest techniques and technologies in cosmetic dentistry, including teeth whitening, veneers, and orthodontics. Once you’ve completed your post-graduate training, you may begin practicing as a cosmetic dentist.

7. Build Your Practice

Lastly, it’s time to build your client base as a cosmetic dentist. In order to do so, you’ll have to market your services, build relationships with patients, and continually improve your skills and knowledge. Your reputation as a cosmetic dentist is highly important, so using the internet to promote your business and demonstrate your service is essential.

What is a Cosmetic Dentist?

A cosmetic dentist is a type of dental specialist who works on the aesthetic improvement of a patient's teeth, gums, and smile. While general dentists focus on maintaining oral health, cosmetic dentists focus on enhancing the appearance of the mouth. That said, to become a cosmetic dentist you must have the same educational requirements of a general dentist.  

What Does a Cosmetic Dentist do?

As a specialist, the responsibilities of a cosmetic dentist are more specific than those of a general dentist and are generally contained to aesthetic procedures. Below are some of the regular procedures a cosmetic dentist may perform:

  • Orthodontics (braces or clear aligners) 
  • Teeth whitening
  • Dental veneers
  • Dental implants
  • Gum contouring
  • Smile makeovers

Overall, a cosmetic dentist’s job is to restore and/or enhance the overall appearance of a patient's teeth and gums. They use a range of techniques and procedures to enhance the overall aesthetics of the mouth.

Cosmetic Dentist Salary & Job Outlook

Cosmetic dentists typically earn a higher salary than general dentists, due to the specialized nature of their work and additional educational requirements. The median salary for cosmetic dentists in the US is $173,697, although salaries vary depending on the job location, years of experience, and type of practice.

Percentile Salary
10th Percentile Cosmetic Dentist Salary $141,636
25th Percentile Cosmetic Dentist Salary $158,345
50th Percentile Cosmetic Dentist Salary $176,697
75th Percentile Cosmetic Dentist Salary $198,941
90th Percentile Cosmetic Dentist Salary $219,193


When it comes to job prospects, the demand for cosmetic dentistry is currently growing and is only expected to trend upward as a result of social media, and advancements in technology which have made cosmetic dentistry more accessible and affordable.

Job satisfaction is also reportedly high due to client satisfaction. An excellent cosmetic dentist can transform a patient's life by alleviating insecurities. Often patients are grateful for the experience so long as their procedures are successful.

FAQs: Becoming a Cosmetic Dentist

Here are our answers to the most frequently asked questions about how to become a cosmetic dentist.

1. How Long Does It Take to Become a Cosmetic Dentist?

In total, it can take from 10-12 years to become a cosmetic dentist. The process takes longer than becoming a general dentist because it requires specialist training. You’ll need to complete a four-year Bachelor's degree, attend dental school for another four years, obtain your dental license, and complete post-graduate training programs.

2. Is It Hard to Be a Cosmetic Dentist?

Becoming a cosmetic dentist requires significant education, training, and skill. A good cosmetic dentist must have dedication, pay close attention to detail, have strong communication skills, and be creative. You must also pass multiple exams and levels of training. 

3. How Do I Become a Cosmetic Dentist in the USA?

To become a cosmetic dentist in the USA, follow these steps:

  1. Obtain an undergraduate degree
  2. Attend dental school
  3. Obtain a dental license
  4. Complete post-graduate training
  5. Obtain certification
  6. Build your practice

Keep in mind that cosmetic dentistry is a specialty and requires extra training beyond regular dental school.

4. Is a Cosmetic Dentist the Same as a General Dentist?

No, a cosmetic dentist is not the same as a general dentist. Although cosmetic dentists are trained to diagnose and treat dental issues like general dentists, they have additional specialized training. 

5. What Education and Training is Required to Become a Cosmetic Dentist?

Becoming a cosmetic dentist takes slightly longer than becoming a general dentist because it is a dental specialty. Generally, the requirements are as follows:

  • Undergrad degree
  • Doctorate degree (General Dentistry)
  • Gain experience in cosmetic dentistry
  • Obtain certification
  • Build your practice

6. What Skills and Qualities are Necessary to Succeed as a Cosmetic Dentist?

The most important qualities for a cosmetic dentist are attention to detail, commitment, and good bedside manner. As a cosmetic dentist, you should keep up with aesthetic trends and be very personable in order to properly market your business and keep your clients smiling.

Final Thoughts

To become a cosmetic dentist, you’ll have to complete several years of education and training. You should also be a detail-oriented individual who is excellent at communicating with patients and coming up with creative solutions.

While it can be a challenging path, the rewards of helping patients achieve a more attractive and confident smile can make for a fulfilling career. By staying up-to-date with the latest advances in cosmetic dentistry and providing personalized care to each patient, you can build a successful and fulfilling career as a cosmetic dentist. 

Good luck!

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