How Long Does it Take to Become a Dentist? | Four Basic Steps


How long does it take to become a dentist? Most students spend eight years in school to complete the degrees required for a dental career. If they choose to specialize in one of nine advanced practice areas, they can expect to spend an additional two to four years in school, plus a possible two-year residency.

Learn more about the initial requirements to become a dentist.

Four Steps to Becoming a Dentist

You must follow four basic steps to become a dentist. It will typically take eight years to complete these requirements, though some undergraduate programs and dental schools offer combined degree programs that can streamline the process.

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree
    1. These are usually from four-year undergraduate programs, but some dental schools accept students who have completed a three-year pre-dental program.

  2. Take the dental admission test (DAT)
    1. Students who want to apply to dental school should take this exam during their junior year of college. It is administered by the American Dental Association and consists of four multiple-choice tests covering natural sciences, reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning and perceptual ability.

  3. Earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM) degree
    1. There are two types of degree programs in dental school, but the only difference is the name. Both degrees are recognized by state licensing boards. These degrees typically take four years to complete.
    2. Many dental schools offer dual degree programs that combine the DDS or DDM degree with another advanced degree such as an MBA or Ph.D. The length of these programs varies according to the type of degree being pursued, but they are designed to be more efficient than earning the two degrees consecutively.

  4. Pass national and state licensing exams
    1. The National Board Dental Examination (NBDE) is a pass/fail test that focuses on basic sciences. Some states require an additional exam.

Reasons to Become a Dentist

If you are interested in science and math, dentistry could be a good career option for you. There are several very good reasons to become a dentist.

  • A career in dentistry has great earning potential, with national average salaries around $174,110 in 2017.
  • Dentists provide a vital public health service that improves people’s health and well-being.
  • There is an expected growth in the number of jobs for dentists due to the dental crisis in America. It is estimated that 9,500 new dentists are needed to meet the growing dental needs of Americans.
  • There are a variety of dentist jobs, from oral surgery to working in education.



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