Becoming a Dentist

The life of a dental student is hard to imagine until you live it. There are parts you can picture, like taking notes during a lecture or sitting for an exam. However, other parts are probably a mystery, hard to visualize or anticipate. 

To help fill in some of the blanks about what dental school is like, we will share some things about dental school, a day in the life of a dental student—including how they survive the first year—and how to prepare for dental student life. We will also discuss some of the sacrifices one makes, the rewards of that sacrifice, and how to prepare yourself for the dental school experience.

What Is Dental School Like?

Dental schools are post-graduate programs usually four years long, with few exceptions. The American Dental Association (ADA), the nation's leading dental organization, says there are 69 accredited dental schools in the US. To earn accreditation, dental schools must go through a rigorous peer-reviewed process that evaluates quality by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). [1]

According to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), dental school's first two years involve multiple biological sciences classes. These include anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, and pharmacology. There are also the dental oriented sciences, which include oral anatomy, pathology, and histology. The second two years of dental school are clinical, where dental students build their hands-on clinical skills under the supervision of a clinical instructor. In addition, they work on their "chairside manner" with patients and ensure that they have experience treating patients with different needs, including children, the elderly, and disabled individuals, among others. [2]


The life of a dental student is challenging and requires discipline

Daily Life of a Dental Student

So, what is a day in the life of a dental student, and how is it different than a day in the life of a dental hygiene student or dental assistant student? It depends on the individual to some extent, but it is safe to say that there will be studying involved no matter who you are. However, YouTube video accounts and written articles by dental students tell you repeatedly that the workload is manageable. The life of a dental student is challenging and requires discipline, but most dental students get through it OK. 

One dental student describes a day in the life of a dental student in a video with the caveat that other schools might be different. Classes were from 8 am to 4 pm every day with an hour for lunch. Mondays tended to be dental-specific classes, with hands-on work in the afternoons, like making teeth out of wax, learning to clean teeth, or charting patient information. The rest of the week’s classes were the sciences lectures, which were repeats and deeper dives on the subject students had already taken in undergraduate work. In addition, there were classes about working with other healthcare clinicians, finances, ethics, and human behavior. 

What Is Dental School Students Studying Life Like?

In addition to class time, there is a lot of studying involved. One standard part of life among dental students is that studying is essential to dental school. However, just like all the other years of school you have had, how much you study is up to you. The general estimate for undergraduate work in college was two to three hours for every hour they spend in class;[3] perhaps the same will apply to you in dental school. Students that want As study the most, with some estimates around five to eight hours a day. However, it also depends on the school you attend, what you studied before you got there, and how you learn best. But don't worry; many dental student testimonials you see will explain that it isn't more than you can handle. However, they also make clear that handling it is essential.

How Do I Survive My First Year of Dental School?

The first year of dental school transitions from undergraduate work to post-graduate work, and it is not easy for most first-years. Understandably, many incoming dental students are worried about how they will adjust. The University of Illinois, Chicago suggests the following five tips to have a successful first year in dental school:[4]

  1. Maintain Balance: Keeping a balance between school and personal time can help you be more efficient when working on your dental degree.
  2. Have a study strategy that works for you: Whatever works for you, keep that going, whether it's a new strategy for dental school or the one that got you through undergrad. 
  3. Jump into activities: Getting involved with student organizations, volunteering, or research programs will enhance your school experience.
  4. Network with older students: They have walked a mile in your shoes, so leverage their experience.
  5. Keep an open mind: You might know what you want to do when you get out of school, but explore your opportunities while you are there because you might be surprised by what intrigues you.

Working While in Dental School

Dental students do not earn money while they are in dental school. Therefore, many people want to know if it is a good idea to have a job while in dental school. Best Accredited Colleges, a ranking site for colleges, say that you can work part-time during dental school, but those that do rarely have jobs outside of dentistry. It is challenging in the first year to get used to the pace and workload of dental school, making sleep a luxury for some—and a job sincerely out of reach. It might be a better plan for dental students to consult with a financial aid program for the money they need instead of taking a part-time job. [5]

Graphic of a dental student trying to maintain balance

How Do I Prepare Myself for Dental School?

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. In addition to taking suitable courses and keeping up your GPA, you should talk to dentists about their careers and job shadowing dentists at their practices. This experience can help you later when you apply for dental school. [6]  

What else do you need to get into dental school? Most dental schools require at least a bachelor's degree to apply. Although the undergraduate degree has no major requirements, dental schools will expect you to complete the dental school requirements (science classes, mostly) as part of your coursework. [7] In addition, you must have at least a 3.0 GPA for your undergrad as a minimum requirement, but that's pretty low for some schools. For the more competitive dental schools, you will want to have a 3.2 GPA or even a 3.5 just to be considered. So, keep those grades up during undergrad. [8]

In addition to your four-year degree, dental schools typically require a Dental Admissions Test (DAT) score, letters of recommendation, a personal statement about who you are and why you want to be a dentist, and any relevant extracurricular activities. [9]

Depending on which school you want to attend, you might have a dental school interview. If you haven't had one of these before, you might be wondering, "What are dental school interviews like?", college admissions consultants, says that there are different formats for dental school interviews:[10]

  • Traditional: This type is either a one-on-one or panel format, centered around questions rather than tasks, and lasts from 30 minutes to hours and hours. 
  • Multiple Mini Interview (MMI): The MMI is a series of shorter interviews where interviewees have a short amount of time to prepare responses to the interviewers, and, like speed dating, each station lasts around ten minutes. 
  • Group Interview: As it sounds, this interview is a group setting where the applicants answer the same question in front of one another, which interviewers use to separate their ideal candidates from the crowd.

Preparation for the interview is essential no matter what format you will face. Some critical parts of this preparation include learning about the school you are interviewing to attend, understanding the structure of the interview and its goals, practicing with mock interviews to improve your answers and make you feel more comfortable with the actual interview, and preparing to speak about both your academics and motivations.[11]

Graphic of a female thinking "Is it worth it?"

Is Dental School Worth the Time?

Dental school takes eight years of school. That's a long time to be a student. What's worse, dental students often leave with their dental degree and substantial debt. 

So, is it worth it?

For most dentists, it is worth the time. The career is rewarding personally and financially. At the end of school and after establishing their dental practice, dentists tend to make an annual salary in the $180,000 to $237,000 range. It's even more for some specialties. [12] Perhaps more importantly, dental school is worth the time because you will be an educated healthcare clinician in a noble profession helping patients achieve their best possible oral health. 

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[1] Dental Education. Accessed July 11, 2022.

[2] Dental school curriculum. Accessed July 11, 2022.

[3] Accessed July 11, 2022.

[4] 5 Tips for a Successful First Year in Dental School | College of Dentistry | University of Illinois Chicago. Published 2018. Accessed July 11, 2022.

[5] Can you work part-time in dental school?. Accessed July 11, 2022.

[6] Muniz H. The 13 Steps to Becoming a Dentist. Published 2019. Accessed July 11, 2022.

[7] How to Become A Dentist: Everything You Need to Know — Shemmassian Academic Consulting. Accessed July 11, 2022.

[8] Smith R. Is Dental School Worth It? – College Reality Check.,lucrative%20and%20noble%20professional%20career. Published 2022. Accessed July 11, 2022.

[9] How to Become A Dentist: Everything You Need to Know — Shemmassian Academic Consulting. Accessed July 11, 2022.

[10] How to Prepare for a Dental School Interview: The Definitive Guide. Published 2022. Accessed July 11, 2022.

[11] How to Prepare for a Dental School Interview: The Definitive Guide. Published 2022. Accessed July 11, 2022.

[12] Smith R. Is Dental School Worth It? – College Reality Check.,lucrative%20and%20noble%20professional%20career. Published 2022. Accessed July 11, 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.