Dentist Education Requirements and Career Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a dentist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensing to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

Dentists provide oral health services to adults and children. Some dentists choose to study a subspecialty, such as orthodontics. Most dentists obtain an undergraduate degree before completing a 4-year dental program. Postgraduate requirements, such as a residency, may also be required. All dentists must be licensed by the state in which they practice.

Required Education Bachelor's degree prior to admission to dental school; doctoral degree in dental medicine or dental surgery; some dental specializations require completion of a residency
Licensing Required for dentists in all states
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 16%*
Median Salary (2013) $105,520*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most dental students obtain a bachelor's degree prior to entering dental school ( While no specific undergraduate degree is required, students commonly take science courses in biology, anatomy, chemistry and microbiology.

Dental School

Aspiring dentists enroll in a dental school accredited by the American Dental Association. Dental colleges offer either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). Prospective students must submit Dental Admission Test (DAT) scores with their application.

DDS degree programs cover four years of in-class, pre-clinical and clinical instruction. The first two years are devoted to lab and class instruction. Courses may include oral pathology, dental diagnosis and dental treatment techniques. In the last two years, students typically complete a dental rotation externship, which is usually conducted in dental clinics and allow students to treat patients under supervision.

In addition to general dentistry, dental schools typically offer specialized areas of study, such as oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics or pediatric dentistry. These postgraduate programs generally take an additional 2-6 years to complete, depending on the chose specialty, and may include a residency.

Career Information

Dentists work with patients to promote dental health. They diagnose and treat oral health issues and inform patients on preventative care and treatment. Most dentists are general practitioners who perform exams, fill cavities and extract teeth; however, some choose a subspecialty of dentistry, such as orthodontics. Dental school graduates may work for established offices or setup their own practice.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS predicts a 16% increase in the employment of dentists between the years 2012 and 2022. This increase was attributed to a rise in the demand for dental services for the aging population. The BLS noted that dentists earned a median annual salary of $105,520 as of May 2013.

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