How to Become a Dentist

Help brighten the smiles of patients of all ages.

How to Become a Dentist

There will always be a need for dentists.

As a student learning how to become a dentist, you'll study traditional medical practices and concepts. But did you know you'll also master dental technologies that involve artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and virtual reality? The dental industry has recently seen those scientific advancements, putting dentistry on the forefront of medical innovation.

U.S. News & World Report has consistently placed dentistry in the top 10 on its list of the 100 best jobs. If you like the idea of being a professional and an entrepreneur, with job stability and a great salary, being a dentist may fill the bill.

What Do Dentists Do?

Dentists examine, diagnose, and treat problems with patients' teeth, gums, and mouths. Beyond general dentistry (also known as family dentistry), you can learn how to become a dentist in a number of specialty areas. The six types of dentists recognized by the American Dental Association are:

  • Pediatric dentists, also known as pedodontists, treat patients from infancy through their teen years. Along with regular dental best practices, pediatric dentists have to learn how to work with patients who are not always patient or cooperative and how to use dental equipment that's designed for children.
  • Orthodontists work mostly with teenagers but also treat adults to straighten teeth and correct jaw-alignment problems.
  • Periodontists specialize in gum diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis. They provide treatments an surgery to correct these problems.
  • Endodontists perform root canals—an average of 25 per week—along with other endodontic treatments that include dental implants and surgeries to save injured teeth. Endodontists often work with family dentists to provide a full range of care.
  • Prosthodontists work with patients who have conditions that cause missing teeth and deficient oral or maxillofacial (face and gum) tissues. They work with fillings, dentures, veneers, crowns, bridges, and oral implants
  • Dental surgeons are also called oral pathologists, oral surgeons, or maxillofacial surgeons. They treat diseases, injuries, and defects of the head, neck, face, and jaws. They typically perform wisdom tooth removal, among other procedures.

Where Do Dentists Work?

Once you become a dentist, you can be employed at a dental clinic or established dental practice, or you can take the entrepreneurial route and work alone or with one or more partners in your own dental office. As a dentist, hours are flexible, especially when you're a business owner. You may choose to work some evenings and weekends to accommodate patients' work schedules.

How to Become a Dentist

It takes more than just a bachelor's degree and a drill to become a dentist. Studying how to become a dentist is very similar to the education doctors require. That means multiple degrees, clinical work, and licensure.

Dentist Education Requirements

There is no specific undergraduate degree required to get into dental school, but applicants who major in a science such as biology may have an advantage in being accepted. Some schools require you to have passed various science courses such as biology or chemistry. You must pass the Dental Admission Test administered by the American Dental Association (ADA) to go to a school that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

In dental school, you‘ll study the techniques, technologies, and physiological knowledge you need to learn how to become a dentist, including local anesthesia, anatomy, and radiology. You'll also take clinical classes that give you hands-on experience working with patients under the supervision of a licensed dentist.

Graduating from dental school grants you a D.D.S. (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or a D.M.D. (Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry). There is no difference between a D.M.D. dentist and a D.D.S. dentist—the coursework and requirements are identical, but some schools prefer one title over the other.

Dental Residency

After you graduate, you'll need to complete two or more years of residency. Family dentists will need to do a two-year residency, but if you decide to work in a special area such as orthodontics, you'll complete an additional two- to four-year residency to earn a postdoctoral certificate or master's degree. Oral and maxillofacial surgeon residencies are anywhere from four to six years and may give you a medical doctor degree (M.D.) as well as your D.D.S. or D.M.D.

Dentists who would also like to teach in a dental school or become a researcher will need additional advanced training in a postdoctoral program after residency.

Dental Licensing

Before joining or opening a dental practice, you must pass a written and clinical exam administered by the Joint National Commission on Dental Examinations in the state where you intend to work. You'll also need a license in any specialty area in which you intend to practice. Test requirements vary from state to state but usually include a diploma from an accredited dental school and a dental residency.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Dentist?

Be prepared for 10 to 12 years of education before you don the white coat, including dental school. So, exactly how long is dental school? Well, dentists go through training that is very similar to medical doctors—a four-year undergrad degree, four years of dental school, and then two to six years of clinical experience depending on whether you choose a specialization.

How Much Do Dentists Make?

According to the  the median dentist salary is around $111,000 per year. Salaries range from $46,000 to more than $165,000. Specialists earn more than general dentists. You can look up the average salary for dentists in your location by using the Monster Salary Guide.

How to Find Dentist Jobs

There will always be a need for dentists, especially in underserved areas. Expect competition for jobs though, in areas that already have a number of dental practices.

Cut through that competition with a sparkling dentist resume that highlights your education and experience using different dental techniques and technologies. Then, do a check-up on the dentist jobs listed on Monster to find a job in your area.

Or, if you want to start your dentist career in a different location, take a look at these states with the most dentist jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

The BLS has also identified these areas as having high dentist employment:

Ready to Bite Into Your Dental Career? Monster Can Help

Now that you know how to become a dentist, put that knowledge to work! Upload your resume to Monster for free to let dental labs, practices, and recruiters know that you're ready to make your first appointment.