How Long Does It Take To Become A Dentist?

A career path toward becoming a dentist is an excellent choice for individuals interested in taking care of people’s teeth. Fully understanding how long does it take to become a dentist is an important step in deciding if it may be right for you as a path.


Dentists are skilled at providing oral hygiene, health and assistance to many people among the population. They are essentially doctors who specialize in oral health pertaining to the mouth, teeth, and gums. 


Too many individuals do not go to see the dentist regularly unless they encounter an issue such as pain in the mouth around the teeth or gums. 


It is imperative to see the dentist on a regular, often yearly basis to ensure proper hygiene of the teeth, gums, and mouth. 


Responsibilities of a dentist include the diagnosis of oral diseases, interpretation of x-rays and diagnostic tests, safe administration of anesthetics, monitoring growth and development of teeth, and creating treatment plans aimed toward the restoration of oral health in regard to their patients. 


If you are considering a career path toward this profession, please understand that it is a somewhat lengthy process to become a general dentist. 


The steps outlined below will help guide you through a summarized process of becoming a dentist along with the estimated timeframe for how long it takes to become a dentist. 


Step 1 – Go to college. The profession requires at least three years of accredited college courses equaling a total of 90-96+ semester hours before admission to a U.S. based dental school is allowed. Although, the recommended path is pursuing further hours to achieve a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree preferably in the area of sciences such as biology, chemistry, or biomedical sciences. 


There are required prerequisite classes to be taken at college in order to enhance your likelihood of acceptance into a U.S. based dental school program (Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medical Dentistry (DMD).


General prerequisite classes to gain entry to a U.S. based dental school

General Biology I with Lab
General Biology II with Lab
General Chemistry I with Lab
General Chemistry II with Lab
Organic Chemistry I with Lab
Organic Chemistry II with Lab
Algebra or Calculus based Physics I with Lab
Algebra or Calculus based Physics II with Lab
English Composition I 
English Composition II
Other prerequisites may be required based on the specific dental school

For example, specifics of prerequisites for three dental schools in the arguably top 10 rated dental schools within the United States is listed below. 

University of Michigan Ann Arbor DDS degree program requires the above classes along with a Biochemistry, Microbiology, Psychology, and Sociology class. 

Adams School of Dentistry at The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill requires General Biology I with Lab and an associated human anatomy/physiology with lab or vertebrate zoology with lab featuring vertebrate dissection in lieu of Biology II with lab. Labs are required with general chemistry but not organic chemistry. Labs are not required with physics. A biochemistry course is required.

Harvard School of Dental Medicine requires the above prerequisites with labs along with a biochemistry course without requiring a lab. Additionally, Calculus I and II must be taken as a mathematics requirement. Students can opt to take Statistics in lieu of Calculus II as a prerequisite. Courses such as cell biology and microbiology although recommended, are not required. 

Step 2 – After having earned a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree along with the appropriate prerequisite classes listed above or at the very least 3+ years of college with the associated prerequisite classes, it is time to move toward taking the DAT or Dental Admission Test. Although, highly proactive students may take the opportunity to sit for the DAT exam the summer before their senior year of college. 


The Dental Admission Test is accepted by 66 dentals schools in the U.S. 


It is a test that takes 4.5 hours to complete and is offered year round by Prometric test centers in the United States.  


Step 3 – Upon having the appropriate college prerequisite courses and a satisfactory score on the DAT or Dental Admission Test, it is time to apply to dental schools. 


This application process will encompass undergraduate grades in the prerequisite courses, DAT score, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and interviews. 


Tip: It is important to choose a dental program that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) or the American Dental Association (ADA) in order to ensure that you are getting the proper dentistry education. 


Step 4 – After being accepted to a U.S. dental school, a comprehensive training will commence totaling four years. The training will familiarize students on subjects such as local anesthesia, periodontics, anatomy, radiology, physiology, pathology, and more as necessitated by the dental curriculum.  


Step 5 – After completing the four years at a dental school, the student will now have earned their Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medical Dentistry (DMD) degree. This is a huge leap toward success on the path to becoming a dentist. 


The next step in the process will be for the qualified DDS or DMD degree holder to pass an extensively rigorous national examination and a regional or state clinical licensing exam in order to practice dentistry.  The national examination is usually that which is recognized by all states known as the Integrated National Board Dental Examination (INBDE) which is governed by the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE). This is a two-day computer based exam. Highly proactive students may wish to take the opportunity to go ahead and take the national exam during their final year of dental school.


Once you have done the college degree or 3+ years of college with the necessary prerequisites, gotten admitted to and successfully earned a DDS or DMD through a qualified dental school, and passed the associated national examination and regional licensing requirement, you may now call yourself a qualified general dentist. 


To recap, that is at least three plus to four years of college to include prerequisite classes. Then another four years on top of that for dental school. That is a total of roughly eight years of education in order to become a qualified general dentist. 


To become a specialized dentist in an area such as pediatric dentistry, endodontics, periodontics, orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics, prosthodontics, and especially oral and maxillofacial surgery, more training is required. 


Tip: Did you know that there are dentists who go through dental school and then do a medical school residency afterwards as a specialty area? They are called Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons! Now that’s a lot of schooling!