Should I Become a Dentist?

Should I Become a Dentist?

Dentists diagnose and treat conditions affecting the mouth, teeth, and gums. In addition to performing extractions, root canals, and tooth replacements, dentists provide preventive care and oral hygiene advice. Dentists typically use anesthetics to help patients minimize pain during procedures. They also perform and examine x-rays of the mouth. These professionals may practice general dentistry or work in a specialized area. Some dentists work weekend or evening hours to accommodate their patients' schedules.

Becoming a dentist requires extensive schooling

Career Requirements

Degree Level

Professional or doctoral degree

Degree Field

Dental surgery or dental medicine


Post-degree training residency required for specialized dentistry


Licensure required in all states

Key Skills

Good judgment, decision-making, communication, and leadership skills; detailed-oriented; manual dexterity and organizational skills, knowledge of dental anatomy and medical procedures

Median Annual Salary (2019)*


Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET Online

How to Be a Dentist: A Step-by-Step Guide

Let's take a look at some of the most important steps to becoming a dentist.

Step 1: Enroll in a Bachelor's Degree Program

You may have been asking yourself, ''how do I become a dentist?'' The path to dental school begins with a bachelor's degree, as dental schools generally require applicants to hold bachelor's degrees before gaining admission. Some schools may admit students after 2 to 3 years of undergraduate study and allow them to earn bachelor's degrees as part of the dental program. Although no specific pre-dental major is required, coursework in biology, physics, and chemistry can provide relevant preparation for dentistry school.

Success Tips:

Join a mentoring program. Students may benefit from joining dentist mentoring programs or the American Student Dental Association (ASDA), which supports aspiring dentists and guides them through the dental school admission process.

Participate in a dental school preparatory program. The Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation offers students enrolled in their first two years of college a 6-week dental school preparation program at selected college or university campuses across the country. Students gain career development and financial advice, academic enrichment, and a first-hand view of dental work in a clinical setting.

Step 2: Take the Dental Admission Test

Before applying to dental school, students must take the Dental Admission Test (DAT), which assesses academic capacity and scientific knowledge. A minimum score on this exam may be required to gain entrance to dental school. Dental schools consider DAT scores, grade point averages, interviews, and letters of recommendation during the admission process.

Step 3: Earn a Dental Degree

Dental school generally lasts four years and results in a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. Programs may be accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation. Some states require a degree from an approved program for state licensure. During the first two years of dental school, students focus on classroom and laboratory studies in health and dental science. Courses may include oral pathology, periodontics, dental anesthesia, orthodontics, radiology, and pharmacology. The last two years of dental school emphasize clinical practice, in which students diagnosis and treat patients under the supervision of dental instructors.

Step 4: Obtain Licensure

All dentists must obtain state licensure to practice. Requirements vary by state; however, all states require passage of the National Board Dental Examinations. This 2-part written exam covers dental sciences, ethics, and clinical procedures. Additionally, all candidates must pass a practical examination administered or approved by their state's licensing board. States may also require prerequisites like first aid or CPR certification, a background check, or an interview.

Step 5: Consider a Specialization

While dentists typically serve as general dentistry practitioners, some choose to specialize in a field of dentistry. Post-DMD or post-DDS education options are available to enable licensed dentists to practice in various specialties. The ADA's Council on Dental Education and Licensure lists nine major dental specialties:

  • Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics
  • Oral and maxillofacial pathology
  • Prosthodontics
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery
  • Pediatric dentistry
  • Public health dentistry
  • Endodontics
  • Periodontics
  • Oral and maxillofacial radiology

Becoming a specialist entails 2 to 4 years of additional education, and in some cases, a residency of up to two years before earning a specialty state license.

Success Tip:

Take continuing education courses. While the ADA's online continuing education classes don't conclude with any kind of certification for licensed dentists, they can provide continuing education units. These courses focus on various aspects of running a dental practice, such as appointment control, as well as teaching dentists new procedures and techniques like air abrasion dentistry and crownless bridge work. Taking stand-alone continuing education courses may help dentists stay current with industry trends and expand their practices as professional dentists.


How many years does it take to become a dentist?

The first steps to becoming a dentist, getting a bachelor's degree and a dental degree, typically take eight years to complete in total. In some cases, these programs can be combined into a six- or seven-year program. These programs are sometimes available to exemplary high school students with very high grades who are certain that they want to pursue dentistry. If you choose to specialize, you will need to spend another 2-4 years in dental school and a further 2 years in residency, but this is not always necessary. At minimum, it takes six years to become a dentist. At most, it could take fourteen years or more.

Is becoming a dentist hard?

Becoming a dentist can be challenging because it requires such extensive schooling. It all depends on the kinds of work that appeals to you and that you excel at. You may start out feeling confident that you want to become a dentist and then decide that the work is not for you. Likewise, you might decide that you want to pursue dentistry after you have already spent some time in post-secondary education.

Is it worth it to become a dentist?

There are several factors to consider when choosing whether it is worth it for you personally to become a dentist. Probably the most significant is: do you enjoy the work? If so, it is most likely worthwhile for you to pursue dentistry as a career. The salary that dentists earn is certainly a major draw for many as well. Not everyone will enjoy working as a dentist, so as with any job, the question of whether pursuing this career is worth it is entirely dependent on your interests and circumstances.

After earning a bachelor's degree and taking the Dental Admissions Test, hopeful dentists must earn a professional or doctoral degree in dental surgery or dental medicine, obtain licensure, and may consider further specialization.

Dental Assistant

Dental assistants greatly increase the efficiency of the dentist in the delivery of quality oral health care and are valuable members of the dental care team. If you have strong communication skills, enjoy working with your hands as well as your mind and want a career with responsibility, dental assisting is for you. What does a dental assistant do? Read on to find out the answer to that question

Job Description

The duties of a dental assistant are among the most comprehensive and varied in the dental office. The dental assistant performs many tasks requiring both interpersonal and technical skills. Although state regulations vary, responsibilities may include:

  • assisting the dentist during a variety of treatment procedures
  • taking and developing dental radiographs (x-rays)
  • asking about the patient's medical history and taking blood pressure and pulse
  • serving as an infection control officer, developing infection control protocol and preparing and sterilizing instruments and equipment
  • helping patients feel comfortable before, during and after dental treatment
  • providing patients with instructions for oral care following surgery or other dental treatment procedures, such as the placement of a restoration (filling)
  • teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies to maintain oral health;
    (e.g., tooth brushing, flossing and nutritional counseling)
  • taking impressions of patients' teeth for study casts (models of teeth)
  • performing office management tasks that often require the use of a personal computer
  • communicating with patients and suppliers (e.g., scheduling appointments, answering the telephone, billing and ordering supplies)
  • helping to provide direct patient care in all dental specialties, including orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, periodontics and oral surgery

Career Advantages

  • Variety: Dental assisting is a challenging and rewarding career, demanding versatility and a willingness to assume responsibility for many different tasks.
  • Flexibility: Since dental assistants are in demand, career options include both full-time and part-time positions.
  • Excellent working conditions: Dental offices are interesting, pleasant, people-oriented environments in which to work.
  • Personal satisfaction: Dental assisting involves people contact, and with this personal interaction comes the personal satisfaction of knowing you've really helped someone by helping to provide a valuable health service.
  • Fact Sheet (PDF)


Since many dentists employ two or more dental assistants, employment opportunities in this field are excellent. The types of practice settings available to dental assistants include:

  • solo dental practices (practices with only one dentist)
  • group practices (practices with two or more dentists)
  • specialty practices, such as oral and maxillofacial surgery (removal of teeth and correction of facial deformities), orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics (straightening teeth with braces or other appliances), endodontics (root canal treatment), periodontics (treatment of gum problems), prosthodontics (replacement of lost teeth) and pediatric dentistry (treatment of children)
  • public health dentistry, including settings such as schools and clinics which focus on the prevention of dental problems within entire communities
  • hospital dental clinics, assisting dentists in the treatment of bedridden patients
  • dental school clinics, assisting dental students as they learn to perform dental procedures
  • Other career opportunities for dental assistants include:
  • insurance companies, processing dental insurance claims
  • vocational schools, technical institutes, community colleges dental schools and universities, teaching others to be dental assistants (which may require associate or baccalaureate college degrees)
  • dental product sales representatives

Earning Potential

The salary of a dental assistant depends primarily upon the responsibilities associated with the specific position and the geographic location of employment. Dental assistants earn salaries equal to other health care personnel with similar training and experience such as medical assistants, physical therapy assistants, occupational therapy assistants, veterinary technicians and pharmacy assistants.


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