How to Become a Dentist

Like all important health care professionals, dentists have a professional obligation to their clients and the public to provide a valuable and safe service. To be a dentist, you need to be a true professional with high standards of care. Dentists work across the entire social spectrum and work with a wide array of clientele. 

Education and training

The average training time is 8 years. Dentists must be proficient in a range of diagnostic and procedural areas, and a lot of practical experience is required before they can practice professionally.

Pre-dental training starts in high school. Undergraduate courses include majors in sciences, plus required coursework. Required subjects are:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Health
  • Mathematics

Dental colleges run 4 years with courses in a progressively structured training environment. The first 2 years of the coursework includes classroom training in microbiology, anatomy, physiology and biochemistry. Additionally, the student will begin training in lab techniques and clinical sciences.

The last 2 years of college include supervised dental practice and treatment of patients.  There are two dental certificates awarded upon completion are equivalent degrees: Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) and the Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD).


Dentists must be licensed in order to practice. In the US state requirements for licensing may vary. In most cases a dentist must pass a written and practical examination in addition to formal qualifications from an accredited dental school. Some states use the National Board Dental Examinations, a three part examination conducted by the American Dental Association, as the written component of examinations. Other states administer written and practical exams.

Tips for becoming a dentist

It's advisable to do preliminary checks about a dental career. Talk with trainers and dental professionals while researching your career options. Dentistry can be complex career path. There are many types of dentistry, and it is possible to specialize in particular areas:

  • Orthodontists: Specialists in teeth formation and bite problems.
  • Periodontists: Gum disease and treatments.
  • Pediatric dentists: Specialists in children's dental issues.
  • Prosthodontists: Specialize in dental prostheses.
  • Public health dentists: Promoting dental health.
  • Endodontists: Root canal specialists.
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeons: Surgery on mouth and jaws.
  • Oral and maxillofacial radiologists: Radiological diagnostics.
  • Oral pathologists: Disease specialists.

These specializations involve further advanced training and more practical and clinical experience, with variable levels of qualification and licensing requirements.

Required skills

Dental procedures incorporate a range of high level special skills, both practical and intellectual:

  • Manual dexterity
  • Visual acuity
  • Judgment of space issues
  • Analytical skills
  • Scientific skills
  • Communications
  • Business management skills
  • Self discipline