Dentists are in Demand and Essential

Being a dentist is an in-demand and essential job. Per the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), there are as many as 5,000 openings for dentists each year. Also, they estimate an eight percent growth in employment over the next ten years. In addition, the demand for dentists increases as an aging population strives to keep their teeth, even more so than previous generations. Moreover, over this same period, there will be an increase in demand for more complicated dental work, like dental implants and other restorative treatments. [1]

So, where do you start, and how many years does it take to become a dentist? How many years is dental school, and is it hard to become a dentist or even worth it? This article examines the details surrounding becoming a dentist and why you should.

How Do I Start to Become a Dentist?

Becoming a dentist starts with investing in education— beginning in high school. recommends taking lots of math and science classes and getting good grades. Moreover, taking honors or Advanced Placement (AP) classes is essential to prepare for the next steps in your dental schooling. 

In addition to taking suitable classes and keeping up your GPA, you should talk to dentists about their careers and see how to become a dentist by job shadowing dentists at their practices. This experience can help you later when you apply for dental school. [2]

Most dental schools require at least a bachelor's degree to apply. However, in most cases, you can major in whatever you want, including Elizabethan Poetry (but we don't recommend it). Dental schools will expect you to complete the dental school requirements (science classes, mostly). In addition to your four-year degree, most dental schools also require a Dental Admissions Test (DAT) score, letters of recommendation, a dental school personal statement (or essay about who you are and why you want to be a dentist), and any relevant extracurricular activities. [3]

Dentist: A dentist also known as a dental surgeon is a health care professional who specializes in dentistry. The dentist's supporting team aids in providing oral health services.

How Long Is Dental School?

Most dental programs are four years long, with few exceptions, per the American Dental Education Association (ADEA). The first two years are classes in the biological sciences, like Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Pharmacology, and the Dental oriented sciences, which include oral anatomy, pathology, and histology. The last two years have been clinical, working on patients, and a little practice management skill work. Also, dental students will work with all types of patients to ensure they have experience treating patients with different needs, including special care or disabled instruction. In addition, the ADEA says many students will rotate through clinics and hospitals, working under a clinical instructor. [4]

After the four-year program, many dentists will take state exams to get their licenses and practice dentistry. However, some dental students want to specialize in one of the 12 dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association (ADA). These specialty degrees require additional training, which usually takes the form of a residency. Most specialties take from one to two years to complete. However, oral and maxillofacial surgery specialists have up to six additional school years. (Hint: they are often also the most highly paid dentists in the country.) [5]

Dental Schools

There are 69 accredited dental schools in the US, per the ADA. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) accredits these schools. Enrollment to become a dentist is at its highest historical level, too. [6]

Click here for a list of all the dental schools in the US from the ADEA

Dental schools offer graduates either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor Medicinae Dentariae, Latin for Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). Per Shemmassian Academic Consulting, there are no differences in the degrees except for their names and history. The first dental school was the Baltimore College of Medicine, which graduated DDS degrees. However, Harvard quickly followed suit and named their degree in Latin the DMD. Universities now choose which one they offer, and most of them choose DDS.[7] 

Average salary is well into six figures. Specialist average even more.

Is Becoming a Dentist Worth It?

Going through the steps to become a dentist is worth it from a compensation standpoint. The average salary is well into six figures, ranging from $180,000 to $237,000. [8] Per the BLS, the average was $163,220 in May of 2021. [9] Specialists average an even higher salary. 

However, dental school is also expensive. Becoming a dentist means dental students graduate with hundreds of thousands of dollars of educational debt. In addition, it takes a minimum of eight years of schooling to become a dentist in most dental school programs. So, for some people, the benefit might not be worth the hard work it takes.

For others, the benefits far outweigh these concerns. Making a significant contribution to the health of their patients is rewarding and appealing. Also, the job flexibility dentistry offers and the idea of being their own boss are very attractive to some dentists.

Is It Hard to Become a Dentist?

Getting your dental degree is challenging, as dental school is difficult. It requires a lot of studying in academically demanding courses. Successful students need to be organized, disciplined, and adaptable to the requirements of their schools. [10]

In addition, you have an exam to pass to get the license to practice in your state, which can either take place in a two-to-three-day session after or near graduation or in several parts throughout your last year of dental school. [11]

Dentists make a significant contribution to the health of the patients.

Should I Become a Dentist?

Dental school is a significant investment of all your resources, personal and financial. So, it's a good idea to be sure you like the job before you commit to it. It's a good idea for people to work in a dental office as an assistant before they enroll in dental school to avoid wasting a lot of time and money on a career they don't like. [12]

Plus, you should know if you have the right mindset for dentistry. For example, dentistry requires constant improvement and education. Dentistry could be an excellent match if that is the career that inspires you. Also, dentistry is a demanding career, so determined people are the most successful in it. [13]

If you are a dentist or want to become one in a PDS-Supported practice, we'd like to talk to you about joining our team.

Tell me more about working at PDS
  • Sources:

    [1] Job Outlook. Accessed July 5, 2022.

    [2] Muniz H. The 13 Steps to Becoming a Dentist. Published 2019. Accessed July 5, 2022.

    [3] How to Become A Dentist: Everything You Need to Know — Shemmassian Academic Consulting. Accessed July 5, 2022.

    [4] Dental school curriculum. Accessed July 5, 2022.

    [5] Dentistry Guide: How Long Does It Take to Become a Dentist? | Published 2022. Accessed July 5, 2022.

    [6] Dental Education. Accessed July 5, 2022.

    [7] How to Become A Dentist: Everything You Need to Know — Shemmassian Academic Consulting. Accessed July 5, 2022.

    [8] Smith R. Is Dental School Worth It? – College Reality Check. Published 2022. Accessed July 5, 2022.

    [9] Dentists: Pay. Accessed July 5, 2022.

    [10] Dental School Really That Difficult? (Explained) – WorkVeteran. Accessed July 5, 2022.

    [11] Student Licensure. Accessed July 5, 2022.

    [12] Pardes A. 12 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Dentist. Published 2016. Accessed July 5, 2022.

    [13] Is dentistry right for you?. Accessed July 5, 2022.

The information provided by Pacific Dental Services in this blog is intended to educate readers about oral health and related topics. However, it is not a substitute for professional advice or career guidance from a qualified dental professional or educator. It is important to seek the help of experts for any concerns related to oral health or career planning.