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Dentistry is the branch of the healing arts and sciences devoted to maintaining oral health.  It is a dynamic health profession, offering opportunities to become a successful, highly respected member of the community. 

Dentists enjoy excellent compensation and the high demand for dental care is likely to continue in the future.  The realization that oral health can have a serious impact on systemic health drives the expansion of new professional opportunities each year.

A degree in dentistry offers a number of career options, including:

  • Academic dentistry
  • Private practice either as a general dentist or specialist (self-employed, employee, associate/ partner)
  • Dental research
  • Dental public policy
  • International health care
  • Federal government (military dentist)

Approximately 80% of all dentists practice general dentistry. General dentists treat all patients, adults and children, in many different treatment facilities and settings. General dentists are graduates of dental school and hold a D.D.S. or D.M.D. degree. The D.M.D. and the D.D.S. are equivalent degrees that are awarded to dental students upon completion of the same types of programs. While many dental school graduates opt to enter general practice immediately upon graduation, in other cases, they may opt for one or two years of additional education in a general practice residency or advanced education in general dentistry program.  

General dentists:

  • Use the latest techniques and equipment to examine the head and neck and oral cavity to identify and diagnose oral conditions that may manifest into systemic disease and determine the oral health of the patient.
  • Use the latest radiographic, computer-generated imaging, and other specialized diagnostic techniques to identify diseases of the teeth, supporting bone and gingival tissues, and other tissues in the oral cavity and head and neck.
  • Restore and replace teeth damaged by decay, lost from trauma or disease, with newly developed dental materials, implants, and crown and bridge techniques.
  • Perform corrective surgery on gums and supporting bones to treat gum disease.
  • Extract teeth when necessary using the most up-to-date anesthetic techniques.
  • Eliminate pain arising from oral diseases, conditions and trauma, making use of prescriptive medicines to reduce pain and discomfort.
  • Correct mal-positioned teeth to improve chewing, speech, digestion of food and appearance.
  • Oversee the administration and business of private practice and frequently employ and supervise a large number of staff and allied dental personnel to help treat their family of patients. 
  • Evaluate the overall health of their patients including taking and evaluating comprehensive medical histories.

  • Provide instruction and advice on oral health care and preventive measures to maintain healthy oral tissues and prevent oral disease.

  • Provide instruction and advice on oral health care, including individualized diet analysis, brushing and flossing techniques, the use of fluoridated products and other specialized preventive measures to maintain healthy oral tissues and prevent oral disease.

There are a number of dental specialties:

  • Endodontists diagnose and treat injuries that are specific to the dental nerves and pulp (matter inside the tooth). 
  • Oral and maxillofacial pathologists study and research the causes, processes and effects of diseases with oral manifestations.
  • Oral and maxillofacial radiology take and interpret conventional, digital, CT, MRI and allied imaging modalities of oral-facial structures and disease.
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeons provide diagnostic services and treatment for injuries, diseases, and defects of the neck, head jaw, and associated structures. 
  • Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedists diagnose and treat problems related to irregular dental development, missing teeth and other abnormalities.   
  • Pediatric dentists treat children from birth to adolescence. 
  • Periodontists provide corrective surgery on gums and supporting bones to treat gum disease.
  • Prosthodontists restore and replace teeth damaged by decay, lost from trauma or disease, with fixed or removable appliances constructed with newly developed dental material.
  • Dental public health specialists develop policies and programs, such as health care reform, that affect the community at large.  

Working Conditions

Approximately 90% of all dentists are engaged in delivery of care through private practices.  Fulltime dentists spend approximately 36 hours per week in their practices, of which 33 hours/week is spent treating patients. They have great flexibility in determining the number of hours per week they choose to work.

The remaining 10% of dentists teach in dental education programs, conduct research, and/or deliver care in the Armed Forces, the Indian Health Service, the U.S. Public Health Service, or other clinical settings.  Dentists engaged in teaching, research or related positions generally work regular 40-hour workweeks.

Learn More

About a Career as a Dentist

About Health Care Careers

Note: The American Dental Education Association reviewed this profile.

male and female dentist/hygienist leaning in (Photo: Getty Images)
Average Salary
$214,070 - $0
Years to complete
post-high school education
8 -
Job outlook


Academic Requirements

To practice dentistry in the United States, you must graduate from an accredited dental school. In order to be accepted into dental school, you have to take the American Dental Association's Dental Admissions Test.

The length of educational training beyond high school is generally eight years, including four years in college and four years of dental school. In making admissions decisions, dental schools consider many factors, which may vary from one school to another. For example, many state-supported dental schools are required to accept a majority of students who reside in their home state. Some dental schools consider individuals without a bachelor's degree, if they have completed a minimum of two years of full-time college study. However, preference is given to candidates who have a college degree by the time they enter dental school.

General criteria used in making admissions decisions include:

  • Overall grade point average
  • Biology-chemistry-physics courses completed and grades earned
  • Total credit hours earned prior to enrollment in dental school (preference given to individuals with bachelor's degrees or more)
  • Quality of academic preparation, e.g., degree of difficulty of curses, course load.
  • Dental Admission Test (DAT) scores

Schools also look at a candidate's personal qualities, which can be reflected in the application and through letters of recommendation. For example, they may consider:

  • Awards, honors, scholarships
  • Extracurricular, volunteer, community service, leadership experiences
  • Work experience
  • Research experience
  • Evidence of overcoming hardships, commitment to education, perseverance
  • Knowledge of the profession of dentistry, including job experience or job shadowing

You do not have to be a science major in college to be admitted into dental school, but you do need to take certain biology, chemistry and physics courses while in college. Work with a health professions advisor while in college to develop a well-rounded course of study that best meets your needs. Pre-dental students also are encouraged to join pre-dental clubs, talk with practicing dentists, and, if possible, shadow dentists.

An increasing number of dental schools offer dual degree programs

In many states, after graduating from dental school and passing your licensing examination, you can begin practicing dentistry immediately. No internship or residency is required. In several states, a one year post-doctoral residency is required in lieu of a licensing examination. Dental school graduates can opt for additional training, either in general practice dentistry or in one of the nine recognized advanced dental education specialties: 

  • Endodontics
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery
  • Oral and maxillofacial radiology
  • Oral pathology
  • Orthodontics
  • Pediatric dentistry
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics
  • Public health dentistry

The cost of a dental education is high, but the income you can earn as a dentist is also significant.  Most dental graduates successfully manage loan repayment through a variety of options offered by the federal government, and in some cases, qualify for loan repayment programs that reduce the amount of student loan debt in return for service to designated populations, engaging in research or pursuing academic dentistry.'s Funding Opportunities tool and's Financing Dental Education section can help you find additional ways to pay for your education.

More information about the dental school application process is available at the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) website and You can also purchase a copy of the ADEA Office Guide to Dental Schools.

Watch for announcements about ADEA-sponsored recruitment events.  Each March, ADEA hosts a live recruitment fair in a different city around the country. ADEA also offers an annual virtual recruitment fair, which is a great opportunity to visit online booths for most of the U.S. dental schools, and engage with dental school faculty, administrators and students in live chats.

You also can connect with other dental students via:

Preparation Timeline

The timeline listed below offers a general guide for undergraduates planning to attend dental school. It is not a rigid timetable. Variations may occur, based on the curriculum of the college or university you are attending, as well as your background and career interests. Use it as a guide to planning your undergraduate education.

While many pre-dental students are science majors (e.g., biology, pre-dental, chemistry, etc.), a science major is not required for admission to dental school. Dental school pre-requisite courses vary by dental school, but generally include, at minimum, one year of study in each of the following areas: biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry and physics. Check the admission requirements of the schools that you are considering for additional required courses.  Many admissions committees are favorably impressed by applicants with varied academic backgrounds including majors such as business, social sciences and the humanities.

Freshman Year

  • Meet with a Pre-Dental Advisor. Some colleges and universities have pre-dental advisors, while others have pre-health professions advisors who work with students interested in all of the health professions. Seek out an advisor to identify the courses you will need to complete as well as the sequence of those courses, to become a viable applicant to dental school.
  • Enroll in either biology or chemistry courses, as recommended by advisor.
  • Join a pre-dental or pre-health professions club at your school. This is a great opportunity to meet other like-minded students, to network, to become involved in community service and to form study groups for your science courses. Meeting upper-class pre-dental students gives you the opportunity to learn about the dental school application process.
  • Learn more about careers in the dental profession. Speak with your own dentist and learn more about the advantages and challenges of the profession. Based on what you learn, why does a career in dentistry appeal to you?
  • Learn about personal finance. Does your university offer a course? Consider how your student budget, spending habits and use of credit cards impact your student loan debt. You may also want to look into scholarship and fellowship options. How can you balance a demanding academic schedule, work, and a comfortable, yet frugal, student lifestyle?
  • Register for and participate in both online and in-person dental school recruitment fairs hosted by ADEA.

Freshman Year - Summer

  • Participate in a summer academic enrichment program like the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program This program is a free (full tuition, housing, and meals) six-week summer medical and dental school preparatory program that offers eligible students intensive and personalized medical and dental school preparation.
  • Work or volunteer in a health care environment. Ideally, work in a dental office or clinic. Your goal is to gain exposure to the health care environment in general and to learn more about the work of dental professionals. Talk to practicing dentists, learn about the delivery of dental care, and find out about the issues impacting the profession.
  • Learn more about dental education by reviewing the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) Official Guide to Dental Schools. This publication is available at pre-dental advisor offices and at college libraries, or may be purchased online at
  • Monitor, as well as websites for dental schools and related organizations to learn more about admissions requirements, the dental school environment, and the profession of dentistry.
  • Register for and participate in both online and in-person dental school recruitment fairs hosted by ADEA.

Sophomore Year

  • Start thinking about selecting a major. Remember, you do not have to be a science major to attend dental school, but you do need to complete specific science courses.
  • Work with your advisor to identify special opportunities for the upcoming summer.  If you qualify and were unable to attend the previous summer, consider applying to an SMDEP program (  Many universities and dental schools offer summer workshops to enhance study skills, to expose undergraduates to the profession, to prepare for the Dental Admissions Test (DAT), and to expose students to various fields of dental research. Check application deadlines.
  • Become actively involved in your pre-dental club. Sign up for committee work, help organize events, participate in activities.
  • Register for and participate in both online and in-person dental school recruitment fairs hosted by ADEA.

Sophomore Year - Summer

  • Participate in a summer program, enroll in summer school, or work/volunteer in the dental profession. Get a job! Keep that student loan debt as low as possible during your undergraduate years.
  • Start putting together a financial plan for applying to dental school. Take into consideration fees for the DAT, the ADEA Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (ADEA AADSAS) application, processing fees to the schools to which you apply, plus the cost of participating in on-site interviews.

Junior YeaR

  • Complete biology and chemistry courses in preparation for taking the DAT in late spring of junior year.
  • Review the dental school application process and create a timeline for the submission of your application materials. Most dental schools participate in ADEA AADSAS, the centralized dental school application service offered through ADEA. Look over the application and begin formulating your application information.
  • Meet with your advisor to find out how your school handles letters of evaluation. (Some schools have a pre-dental committee that writes a joint evaluation on your behalf; other schools simply assemble letters that you have requested from faculty.) Identify individuals who are willing to write letters of evaluation on your behalf; communicate submission deadlines to them. Be able to document your dental office observation experiences.
  • Start making decisions about the type of dental school you want to attend: location, size of school, composition of the student body, curriculum, emphasis of the program. View websites, talk with classmates and upper-class students who are now enrolled in dental school.
  • Register for and participate in both online and in-person dental school recruitment fairs hosted by ADEA.
  • Participate in visitations from dental school admissions officers, visit dental schools, talk to dental students and admissions/minority affairs officers.
  • Continue to actively participate in pre-dental organization activities.
  • Identify a strategy to prepare for the DAT. Obtain a sample DAT test from the American Dental Association (no charge). Consider purchasing a DAT review book and/or a CD that offers sample tests. Some students opt to enroll in DAT review courses, offered at dental schools, colleges and universities, and by private companies. Some of these courses are offered free of charge, while others are quite costly. If you decide to purchase a book, CD or participate in a commercial DAT preparation workshop, make sure the content matches the actual content of the DAT.
  • Register for the DAT with the American Dental Association. After submitting your application, you will receive instructions on contacting a Prometric Testing Center to schedule your test date. The DAT is a computerized examination and can be taken at a date and time of your choosing. Your registration is valid for six  months.
  • The ideal time to take the DAT is at the end of the spring semester, junior year, or immediately after you have completed your organic chemistry courses. If your test scores are not what you would like, you must wait 90 days to re-take the test.  The DAT can only be taken up to three times, so plan to score well the first time you take the test.

Junior Year - Summer

  • Submit your ADEA AADSAS application, indicating the dental schools to which you want your application materials sent.  The ADEA AADSAS application cycle generally opens on or around June 1.   An early application significantly enhances your chances of being admitted to dental school. Don't procrastinate and let application deadlines sneak up on you!
  • If possible, work, volunteer, or participate in a summer pre-dental program at a dental school.
  • Submit your ADEA AADSAS application. Note: fee reductions are offered to individuals who can demonstrate extreme financial need.
  • If you're re-taking the DAT, have a study strategy in place. Remember, you must allow 90 days between test dates.

Senior Year

  • Complete advanced science courses. Although most schools only require a year of biology, most dental students will tell you that additional courses, particularly in the biological sciences, prepare you better for the fast-paced dental school curriculum.
  • Finish up all course requirements for your degree.
  • Prepare to go on interviews. Participate in mock interviews offered by your pre-dental organization or Career Center.
  • Obtain a good interviewing outfit. Professional business attire is the norm.
  • Sometime after December 1, you will (hopefully) receive offers of admission. Depending on the date of acceptance, you will have specific response time. Most -- but not all -- schools require a tuition deposit at the time you accept the offer of admission.
  • Initiate the financial aid application process to the dental school you choose to attend. Don't procrastinate! Many financial aid awards are based on the date of application. Work with your dental school's financial aid office to stay on top of the application process.
  • Prepare for graduation!


  • Prepare for your enrollment in dental school. This could mean participating in a pre-freshman experience, working and earning a few more dollars before starting school, or traveling and relaxing. Have fun!