What Degrees Do You Need to Be a Dentist?
Becoming a dentist requires more education than becoming other related positions in dentistry, such as becoming a dental hygienist. Dentists must first earn a bachelor's degree, followed by a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry/Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. Here we discuss a dentist's necessary education in more detail.
Is Dentistry an Undergraduate Major?
While dentistry is not a major at the undergraduate level, there are many pre-dental bachelor's degree programs available. These programs can usually result in a Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. Often, these degrees are in areas like biology with a pre-dentistry concentration or focus. Aspiring dentists are not required to have a specific major, but usually a major in science is most beneficial as they are likely to include courses in chemistry and biology.
Dentist DDS or DMD?
There are many different colleges for dentistry degree programs at the doctoral level. The type of degree, DDS or DMD, depends on the institution, but these degrees are equivalent.
These programs require applicants to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT), complete an interview process, and meet other admission requirements before being accepted into dental school. Once accepted, these programs typically take 4 years to complete and include extensive clinical experience. Students in DDS or DMD programs are likely to study topics in:
- Oral anatomy
- Management of dental practice
- Pediatric dentistry
- Treatment planning
- Oral surgery
Do Dentists Go to Medical School?
While general dentists do not need additional training outside of dental school, dentists wishing to specialize in a particular area of dentistry do need additional training. Normally this takes place through residency programs in that particular specialty that may take 2 to 4 years to complete. Most of these residencies result in an additional master's degree or postdoctoral certificate.
While it is not considered medical school per se, students interested in practicing oral and maxillofacial surgery can enter MD-integrated programs after dental school, where they receive a Medical Doctor (MD) degree in addition to their dentistry degree. These programs are usually 6 years in length and require extensive clinical experience in hospitals.
Are There Other Requirements to Be a Dentist?
All dentists must obtain a valid state license to practice in their state. Usually, this requires them to pass the National Board Dental Examinations, as well as any required state exam. Dentists who are trained in a particular specialty must also hold a license in that specialty field, which may require another state exam.
Dentist Career Overview
|Degree Required||Doctoral degree|
|Average Annual Salary (2018)*||$180,590 (for all dentists)|
|Estimated Job Growth (2016-2026)*||19% (for all dentists)|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
According to the BLS, most dentists are general dentists and made an average salary of $175,840 in 2018. The BLS also reported that most general dentists worked in offices of dentists and made an average annual salary of $178,350, but those that worked in residential intellectual and developmental disability, mental health, and substance abuse facilities made the highest average salary of $192,680 in 2018.
Many dentists can set their own hours and may work normal business hours and/or nights and weekends. Primary job duties may include:
- Treating cavities
- Prescribing medications
- Examining and diagnosing issues of the mouth/throat
- Fixing damaged teeth
- Educating patients
- Creating models for dental appliances