Residency & Beyond

How to Be a Dentist

Dentists have a crucial role in our society as they are the healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat diseases related to the human mouth. In addition, they educate the public on prevention methods to keep people as healthy as possible.


To be a dentist, you need to be a dedicated and persevering student. The road to becoming a dentist is long and challenging, but the rewards are often unending. Dentists have great fulfillment in knowing that their work relieves pain and improves the overall standard of life. Below is a typical path a prospective dentist must take to be a dentist. You can also view a dental school general timeline on how to be a dentist.


{slider=1. Graduate from High School (~4 years)}

What courses should I take?
Try to take as many AP and honors courses as you can possibly take, especially in math and science. Challenging yourself in high school will better prepare you for the rough coursework you will face in college.

What extracurricular activities should I be a part of?
Try volunteering or interning with a dentist to see if dentistry really is a field that you can picture yourself in. You should not be a dentist if you do not know what they truly do. Furthermore, join clubs or organizations that will help you develop leadership skills.

{/slider}{slider=2. Graduate from an Undergraduate college (~4 years)}

What college should I attend?
Many students believe that the reputation of their undergraduate college is a large determinant in whether they are accepted into dental school or not. However, this is not true. Dental schools do not care much about what college you attended, but rather how well you did academically at the college you attended.

What should I major in?
Dental schools do not generally give any preference for a particular major. In fact, dental schools seek to admit students from diverse backgrounds. They have the belief that a diverse student population improves the overall value of the dental institution. So whether you majored in biology, psychology, sociology, history, or English, you can apply and be accepted to dental school; your major in itself does not increase or decrease your chances at obtaining admissions. However, dental schools do require you to take specific courses at your undergraduate institution to apply to their schools. Each school may differ on the exact prerequisites so it is best to look up each school’s required courses. Generally these courses include biology, chemistry, physics, English, and math. In addition, each school may list courses that are not required but strongly recommended.

Is there a standardized test I should take?
Dental schools require that applicants take a standardized test called Dental Admission Test, or simply, DAT. There is no set rule on when students should take this test, but generally students take this sometime during their undergraduate career. Apart from your GPA, this test may be the most important factor in the admissions criteria so make sure to prepare well.

Do I need to work, volunteer, or intern in a dental setting?
It is definitely best to have experience in a dental setting before applying to dental school. In the perspective of the dental schools, an applicant with no such experience is one who is not serious about becoming a dentist. Experience is the only way to truly know if you want to be a dentist.

What extracurricular activities should I join?
There is no set rule on what kind of clubs or activities you should be a part of. However, dental schools do like to see leadership experience in their applicants so try obtain a leadership position if possible.

{/slider}{slider=3. Graduate Dental School (~4 years)}

When should I apply to dental school?
There is no set rule on when you should apply to dental school. You should apply to dental school when you feel like you are ready to make the commitment into the field of dentistry. Generally, students apply after their junior year of college or after their senior year of college, but when you apply is completely your decision; it will not affect your chances on admissions. Dental applications become available in March, but you cannot start sending it out until June 1st. It is recommended that you send in your application as soon as possible. It is also important to note that the entire application process takes approximately one year.

What is dental school like?
Dental school is typically a four year program. The dental school curriculum is considered rigorous so it is important for a student to be mentally prepared for these upcoming four years. Usually the earlier years of dental school is focused primarily on classroom lectures whereas the later years are focused on clinical experience and patient interaction.

Am I a licensed dentist after I graduate dental school?
Graduating from dental school is not the only requisite to becoming a licensed dentist in the US. In addition to graduating from an accredited dental school, each state requires that prospective dentists pass licensing exams which consists of written and practical portions. In addition, a dentist who wishes to specialize must have a license in that particular specialty. This will be covered in the next section.

{/slider}{slider=4. Finish a Residency Program (Optional, ~2-4 years)}

What is residency?
After graduating from an accredited dental school and passing the licensing exams, you become a licensed general dentist. General dentists are highly trained professionals who have the knowledge and ability to practice in all areas of dentistry. However, general dentists can opt to obtain extra training so that they can become specialized in one area of dentistry. This training is called residency.

What types of residency are there?
There are nine dental specialties as stated by the American Dental Association. They are listed below:
Public Health dentistry
Oral and maxillofacial pathology
Oral and maxillofacial radiology
Oral and maxillofacial surgery
Pediatric dentistry



Important resources:

American Dental Education Association (ADEA)

ADEA Guidebook 

American Dental Association 


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