How to become a dentist

Published: Wednesday 3rd March 2021

Elderly dentist leaning on a chair and smiling

Are you thinking about how to become a dentist? You’re not alone! Thousands of people every year enter this rewarding and lucrative field. To pursue a career as a dentist, you’ll need an interest in science and medicine, and a desire to help people with a particular aspect of their health. 

Here’s how to become a dentist. 

What is a dentist?

A dentist is a medical professional who helps people improve and maintain the health of their teeth. They diagnose and treat problems with their patients’ gums, teeth, and related parts of the mouth. 

A dentist works with lots of tools and equipment, such as drills, scrapers, mirrors, probes, forceps, brushes, and x-rays. For some procedures, dentists will also use tools like lasers, digital scanners, and a variety of other technologies. 

Most dentists work out of their own private practices. While some will hire administrative staff to help them run their business, many dentists are intimately involved in the day-to-day operations of their businesses. They will hire workers like secretaries, bookkeepers, and other administrative staff to help with their business. They will also employ other dental professionals, such as dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental laboratory technicians, and others to assist during procedures. 

Though most dentists are general practitioners, there are many sub-specialties in the field of dentistry. You could be an endodontologist, specializing in root canal therapy. You could be an orthodontist, helping people to straighten their teeth using braces, retainers, and other appliances. Or you could be a periodontist, specializing in the gums and the bones that support the teeth. 

Many dentists also perform research, teach, or work part time. 

What education do I need to become a dentist?

Patient being treated by a dentist

To become a dentist, you will need a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD) from a program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. These programs are usually offered by dental schools. To start one of these programs, dental students will need to have earned a bachelor’s degree and have completed courses in science, biology, and other similar subjects. 

To enter into a dental school, you will need to pass the Dental Admission Test, which judges candidates on many criteria, including you GPA, interviews, and references. Most programs include clinical experience, where students work directly with patients under the supervision of a licensed dentist. 

Do I need any other qualifications/experience?

All dentists are required to undertake additional training if they are planning on doing a specialty. You must also be licensed to practice in your chosen state by passing the National Board Dental Examinations, along with state and regional clinical examination. 

Main duties

The type of duties you perform will depend on your specialty. However, most dentists will:

  • Fill cavities
  • Remove tooth decay
  • Repair and remove damaged teeth
  • Administer anesthetic to perform procedures on patients
  • Advise patients on gum, tooth, and oral health
  • Prescribe medications where needed
  • Examine x-rays of teeth, gums, and jaw to diagnose problems
  • Make models for dental appliances, such as retainers and dentures

Where are all the dentist jobs?

Female dentist treating a patient in her dental chair

Once you become a dentist, you can work almost anywhere where you are able to get a licence. Dentists tend to either own their own businesses or to work in the dental practices of established dentists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs in this field to grow by 4% by 2029, about as fast as most other professions. 


The median salary for a dentist in the US is around $159,000, however this can change depending on region and experience. The highest 10% of dentists in the US earned around $208,000.

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