How To Become A Dentist-Salary, Education, Specializations

Summary of how to become a dentist

  • College undergraduates applying to dental school are required to pass the DAT (Dental Acceptance Test)
  • Dental school takes 4 years to complete
  • All states require dentists to be licensed
  • Average Annual Salary: $148,710
  • Expected Lifetime Earnings: $5,512,000

Dentist – Education

Students who are interested in becoming dentists should already in high school take courses in biology, physics, anatomy, and mathematics. Then they will at least need to hold a bachelor’s degree in order to get into dental school, but please note that qualification requirements are varying by school. Every dental school, though, requires applicants to have completed prerequisite science courses, such as chemistry and biology.  To check out if this profession is right for you, take a totally free career quiz.

Students who have majored in for example biology, have better chances to get accepted, but for most dental programs, there is no requirement for a specific major. Usually, college undergraduates planning to apply to dental school are required to take and pass the DAT (Dental Acceptance Test) in their junior year, but getting into dental school is often a competitive process.

Dental schools, in general, use the DAT in combination with recommendations and an applicant’s grade point average to allow them to their programs. Dental students must take classes in subject fields like anatomy, radiology, anesthesia, and periodontology where they learn about oral health and oral diseases. Dental schools’ programs all come with practical experience at clinics where their students are working with patients in clinical settings under guidance and supervision of licensed dentists.

Dental school takes four years to complete at full-time status, so those who complete a bachelor’s degree first will be in school for eight years.

All states require dentists to be licensed, but requirements may vary by state. To get licensed, most states require applicants to have graduated from a dental school that is properly accredited, and they also need to have passed practical and written exams. General dentists are not required to receive any additional education after they completed dental school, but to become dental specialists as listed above, dentists need to complete extra training before they can practice their specialties. In general, they need to complete a one or two-year post-graduate residency program that relates to the concentration.  specialty. General dentists do not require any additional training after dental school.

Dentist – The Job

Dentists, in general, are diagnosing and treating their patients’ problems with teeth, gums, or other related mouth parts. Dentists also provide the best advice how they should take care of their teeth and gums as well as diet instruction to enhance oral health in general.

Dentists fill cavities and remove decay from their patients’ teeth, repair or remove fractured or cracked teeth, take and study x-rays of their patients’ teeth and gums, apply anesthetics when needed to avoid severe pain during their operations, procedures, straighten their patients’ teeth, and put whitening agents or sealants on teeth.

Dentists also will issue prescriptions medications such as antibiotics, take measurements and make models for dental appliances, e.g. dentures, for their patients, and instruct their patients on a healthy diet, the use of fluoride, flossing, and more issues related to dental care.

Most dentists run private practices, where they also manage and control administrative tasks, such as bookkeeping, and where they are responsible for buying supplies and professional equipment. They also need to instruct and supervise their receptionists, dental assistants, and dental hygienists, and manage dental technicians in their laboratories.

Dentists will use and apply drills, probes, forceps, scalpels, and they will use highly specialized equipment such as x-ray machines, digital scanners, lasers, and computer technologies.

In 2014, there were just under 150,000 dentists in America. Many dentists run their own offices and employ a small staff, while other dentists are participating in dental practices as partners, and others again work for established dentists associates.

Most dentists will perform their duties in offices where they wear gloves, mouth masks, as well as safety glasses in order to protect their patients and themselves from infections and other diseases. Dentists are usually working full time and some also work on weekends and evenings to comfort their patients, so their number of working hours may vary greatly.


The majority of dentists are working as general practitioners in their own offices where they perform several dental operations and procedures. But there are also dentists who have specialized in the following concentrations:

  • Dental public health specialists, who work to prevent dental disease in certain communities, and are promoting good dental care.
  • Maxillofacial/oral radiologists, who diagnose head and mouth diseases via imaging technologies.
  • Endodontists, who carry out root-canal treatment (the removal of nerves from infected or injured teeth.
  • Maxillofacial/oral surgeons, who are operating on the teeth, jaws, mouth, gums, and head. These specialists also perform surgically repair of cleft lips, palate, and remove impacted teeth.
  • Orthodontists, who use appliances such as braces to straighten their patients’ teeth.
  • Oral pathologists, who diagnose oral diseases such as cancer, and identify mouth conditions, for example, ulcers or bumps.
  • Periodontists, who are treating their patients’ gums and bone structure to support the teeth.
  • Pediatric dentists, who are concentrating on dental care for children and patients with special needs.
  • Prosthodontists, who are specialized in producing permanent or removable fixtures to replace missing teeth. Permanent fixtures can be bridges and crowns, and removable fixtures usually are dentures.

 Job outlook and earnings

Over the coming decade, the employment options of dentists is expected to increase considerably, and faster than the average. The baby-boom generation is getting older, and they need more complicated dental care. Additionally will each generation keep their teeth longer than earlier generations, so extra dental care will be required, and more and more research and studies are linking dental health to general health.

Dentists are also expected to employ more dental assistants and hygienists, so the professional outlook for these professionals is good as well. In 2013, the average earning for dentists was $148,710, but their income may get influenced by factors such as location, practice, specialty, and hours worked.

To check out if becoming a dentist may be a great career path for you, you are welcome to take a free career quiz.


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