A Dentist’s Career Path: What to Know About Becoming a Dentist

Becoming a dentist involves a lot of hard work but gives you a rewarding career that’s unique from any other field. In fact, U.S. News & World Report has consistently listed dental industry professions as their “100 Best Jobs” with dentist ranking #2 on the list. If you’ve ever been intrigued by what a dentist does day-to-day or are fascinated every time you visit the dentist, a career in dentistry could be in your future. As a dentist, you’ll find yourself in a position that allows you to be creative and help others improve their oral health. We can help you learn more about a dentist’s career path and what it takes to become a dentist, while answering questions you have such as “How long does it take to become a dentist?”



While this blog post might help you decide if a career as a dentist is right for you, you should also perform your own research on the field. A good way to start is to job shadow or interview a real dentist. This is an excellent way to get firsthand dentist career information, see a dentist perform real dental procedures and gives you the opportunity to ask those burning questions you won’t find online. Start by asking your dentist, someone you know in the dentistry field or even contacting a dentist who works in a specialty you’re particularly interested in.

Education Requirements for Dentists

A dentist’s education path starts with a four-year college degree. Most ADA accredited dental schools require you to obtain a bachelor’s degree before dental school. Like a pre-med bachelor’s program, you don’t need to major in pre-dental to get into dental school. You should choose a degree program that involves courses in biology, anatomy, and chemistry as some dental schools have course prerequisites.

During your junior year, you’ll take the Dental Admission Test administered by the American Dental Association. This test is required for admission into any dental school and tests your academic, perceptual and scientific abilities. Your score on the DAT determines which ADA accredited dental programs you can apply for. While becoming a dentist does require quite a bit of education, there are several dental scholarships available to help offset the costs of dental school.

All dental schools either offer a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree. A future dentist’s coursework involves a combination of lab and classroom learning and during the last two years, a dental internship. This allows students to rotate in different dental specialties and assist with procedures.

After you complete your four-year DMD or DDS program, you must obtain a license to practice in the state you want to work in. This involves passing the National Board Dental Examinations and a clinical exam, but each state has different requirements. While most dentists can practice general dentistry right out of dental school, some choose to do a one-year residency. A residency is further training for dentists involving practicing general dentistry, under the supervision of an experienced dentist, and rotating amongst dental specialties.


Continuing Education for Dentists

Beyond general dentistry, there are several dental specialties that involve further education. This can include periodontics, oral surgery, orthodontics and more. Dentists who want to continue their education with a dental specialty participate in a post-graduate specialty program that can take 2-6 years to complete. Most dental specialties also require a two-year residency in their field. A dentist may even go on to obtain a Ph.D. in their specialty or in oral health sciences.

Practicing as a Dentist

Once you’ve obtained the proper degrees and licensing, you’re ready to practice as a dentist. A typical work environment for a new dentist might involve working as an associate in a private or corporate dental practice. Successful dentists often go on to own their own private practice or partner with another dentist at their practice. Dentists can look forward to great salary opportunities and a flexible work schedule as your workday depends on the number of appointments you have. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for dentists is expected to increase 19 percent between 2016-2026.

A general dentist will spend their day working with dental hygienists after teeth cleanings to perform dental exams on patients, filling cavities, pulling teeth, diagnosing oral health problems and referring patients to specialists. One of the most important parts of being a dentist is building relationships with patients to ultimately grow your practice. Dentists must use listening skills to understand their patient’s needs and create a trusting environment for both adult and younger patients.

The dentistry career path offers a number of different options and also provides job security and a flexible lifestyle. There’s no better time than now to start a rewarding career in the dental industry.

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