How to Become a Dentist

November 24, 2022


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 6/3/22

Are you considering a career in dentistry? The educational path to becoming a dentist can be long and complex, but we’ve got you covered. Here is your complete guide on how to become a dentist.

Dentistry can be a fulfilling career for those passionate about oral health and hygiene. But how long does it take to be a dentist? And what steps do you have to take to get there? If you’re wondering how you can become a dentist, read on to learn more! 

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Steps to Become a Dentist

How many years it takes to become a dentist depends on your goals, but it typically takes about eight years. Here's our step-by-step guide on how to become a dentist. 

Step 1: Complete an Undergraduate Degree

Most North American dental schools require applicants to complete a bachelor’s degree. Although some schools admit students during the final years of their undergrad, it’s uncommon. 

You can prepare for dental school during college by completing the necessary prerequisite courses and gaining volunteer and work experience to add to your dental CV. 

Step 2: Take the DAT

The Dental Admissions Test is a computer-based multiple choice exam to assess necessary skills. The test is 4.5 hours long and includes four sections: 

  • Natural Sciences (biology and organic/general chemistry) 
  • Perceptual Ability
  • Reading Comprehension 
  • Quantitative Reasoning

Most students take the DAT after they’ve taken all undergraduate prerequisite courses. This timeline still gives students many months before applying to dental school if they need to retake the test. 

DAT score ranges from 1 to 30. The test is administered year-round to give students ample opportunities to choose a date that best suits their schedule. Performing your best on the DAT is crucial to your dental school application!

Step 3: Complete Dental School

This is the most important step to becoming a dentist. Once you’ve completed a bachelor’s degree and gotten accepted at a dental school, you can begin focusing on your passion. You’ll take medical courses such as biology and anatomy and specific dental courses like preventive dentistry and dental anatomy.

Throughout dental school, you’ll spend time in labs gaining hands-on experience, shadowing, and performing basic procedures. After you’ve successfully earned a dentistry degree at a CODA-accredited institution, you can move on to acquiring licensure. 

Step 4: Earn Your Dental License

Once you’ve earned your D.M.D or D.D.S, you can get your dental license after completing a written exam. Formerly, U.S. dental licensure required successful completion of Part I and Part II NBDE exams, which have now been discontinued. 

To replace the NBDE, dental graduates must now take an Integrated National Board Dental Examination (INBDE). Most U.S. licensing jurisdictions also require candidates to complete a clinical examination requirement. Clinical exams are typically administered by regional testing agencies. 

In clinical exams, candidates face one or two dental-related problem-solving tasks. For more information on clinical exams, check the ADA’s information on the Dental Licensure Objective Structured Clinical Examination (DLOSCE).

Step 5: Complete a Specialty Residency (Optional)

If you want to specialize, you can attend a residency program after dental school. Dental residency programs can take two to six years to complete, depending on the specialty. Currently, there are 12 dental specialties recognized by the ADA:

  • Dental Anesthesiology
  • Dental Public Health
  • Endodontics
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Oral Medicine
  • Orofacial Pain
  • Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
  • Pediatric Dentistry
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics

Although completing a residency adds years to your education, it can be worth it if you’re a passionate learner who wants to focus on one area of dentistry. Specialists are often compensated more than dentists who choose not to specialize.

How Much Does It Cost To Become a Dentist?

So, how would becoming a dentist impact your wallet? We’ll break down tuition costs and more. 


The average cost of dental school tuition in the U.S. can differ greatly depending on the school. For example, first-year tuition at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine costs $67,610, while first-year tuition at the University of Alabama costs $30,972 (for in-state students). 

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Source: Harvard School Of Dental Medicine

It’s worth noting that in-state students often pay less tuition than their out-of-state peers. If you’re seeking a more affordable dental school experience, consider attending an in-state school. 

Application Fees

Application fees should also be factored into your dental school budget. The more schools you apply to, the more costly your application fees will be. The ADEA AADSAS’ initial application fee is $251 for your first school and charges $108 for each additional dental application

Cost of Living & Transportation 

Your dental school budget must factor in the cost of living and transportation. First-year students often choose to live on campus, which can help lower monthly costs for living and transportation. 

Depending on your area, finding a rental space near your school may be less expensive than living in residence. To make the comparison, search for the state’s average cost of living and compare it to the cost of residence at your target schools.

Other Expenses

Depending on where you attend school, you may have to account for some added expenses. Flights home, for example, can become a financial burden for international or out-of-state students. Your budget should also account for materials such as: 

  • Textbooks
  • Writing materials 
  • Personal computer
  • Other necessary equipment

You should also account for personal spending money; how much you should allot for yourself depends on your spending habits. 

How Much Money Do Dentists Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary of dentists is $163,220 annually. The average income for a dentist depends on numerous factors, including: 

  • Education
  • Specialty
  • Experience
  • Location 

Dentists typically work full-time hours. As for the future of dentist salaries, the BLS projects an 8% employment growth for dentists between 2020 and 2030. 

What’s It Like to Be a Dentist?

So, what can you expect from a dentistry career? A day in the life of a dentist typically consists of an early start, reviewing patient files, and seeing three to four patients before heading home. 

Here are a few regular tasks you can expect to complete as a dentist:

  • Reviewing patient files
  • Preparing for procedures
  • Seeing patients for consultations
  • Performing procedures (up to 10 daily)

Dentists generally report high levels of job satisfaction, especially after the first few years of adjusting and building a client base. 

Other Considerations

Now that we’ve covered the essential steps to becoming a dentist let’s discuss what it’s like once you’re practicing. Here are some considerations for future dentists.

Job Satisfaction

Dental professionals report varying levels of job satisfaction. Seasoned dental professionals often report high job satisfaction, while new dentists report having a harder time. 

Dentists report higher job satisfaction the longer they’ve been practicing. Over the years, you can generally expect patient relationships to become well established, hours to become more regular, and your salary to increase. 


Dentists generally work full-time on a somewhat standard schedule. You can expect to work approximately 36 hours weekly, of which most of your time is spent treating patients. 

Chair-Side Manner

One of the most important parts of being a successful dentist is your “chair-side” manner. You’ll spend a lot of time getting to know your patients. Many people don’t feel comfortable going to the dentist, so a big part of your job is to ease your patient’s anxiety by adopting an approachable yet professional manner. 

Your chair-side manner can also determine how many long-term patients you’ll have. Patients may decide to keep coming back to see you simply because they enjoy the way you talk to them. 

How to Become a Dentist: FAQs

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about becoming a dentist. 

1. How Long Does It Take To Become A Dentist?

It takes eight years to become a dentist: four years in college, and four years in dental school. If you choose to specialize, you’ll need to attend a residency program, which can add two to six years to your education.

2. Is Dental School Worth It?

Whether becoming a dentist is worth it or not is ultimately up to you. To ease your decision, try attending a pre-dental program, shadowing, or volunteering in a dental setting. Being a dentist can be a great career choice if you are passionate about healthcare and enjoy interacting with patients.

3. What Is The Annual Salary Of A Dentist?

A dentist’s median salary is $163,220 annually. Your salary will vary depending on your education, specialty, experience, location, and other factors. 

4. What Degree Do You Need to Be a Dentist?

Most dental schools require applicants to have completed a four-year bachelor’s degree. Then you must complete dental school to earn a D.D.S. or D.M.D.  

5. Do You Need to Complete a Dental Residency? 

No: completing a dental residency is optional. 

6. What Are The Prerequisites For Dental School?

The general prerequisite courses for dental school are one year (with lab) of biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics. Sometimes more science, anatomy, and English courses are also required.

7. How do I choose a Dental School?

Take our free dental school selection quiz to find the right program for you! 

Sink Your Teeth Into Dentistry with Inspira Advantage

Becoming a dentist is an excellent career choice if you’re passionate about healthcare and enjoy interacting with patients daily. If you’re considering becoming a dentist, you should be prepared to attend at least eight years of school (or more if you want to specialize). 

If you’re having trouble deciding if dentistry is right for you, try attending a pre-dental program or shadowing a dentist to better understand what to expect as a future dentist. If you’re confident about dentistry, a seasoned dental school admissions consultant can help you get a jump start on your future. Good luck!

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