Common Questions About Becoming a Dentist

May 5, 2015


There are a lot of things to consider if you are thinking about becoming a dentist. Dental school involves four years of hard work beyond your undergrad studies. In addition, dental school also does not come cheap. Before investing a lot of time and money, you need to be sure being a dentist is the right fit. Learning as much as possible about dental school and what a dental career involves can help you make the decision. Consider some of the questions and answers below.

What do dentists do?

Dentists diagnose and treat a variety of dental conditions from cracked teeth to gum disease. They may also educate patients and help prevent oral health problems. Dentists also screen for conditions, such as oral cancer. Some dentists choose to focus on a specific area of dentistry such as orthodontics or periodontics while others provide general dentistry and primary care.

Do most dentists open a private practice?

Although many dentists open a private practice, it is not your only option. Some dentists join a group practice or work in a dental clinic. Public health dentistry is also another option for dentists.  Public health dentistry involves working for a government agency, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health. Work performed may include research, developing oral health outreach programs or public policies. Additional opportunities for dentists exist in dental laboratories and teaching in universities and dental schools.

What dental specialty pays the most?

It is difficult to say which specialty pays the highest since a lot of different factors affect how much you can make as a dentist. For example, the number of patients you treat each day affects earnings. The salary for dentists can also be affected by the part of the country you live in. Although it can vary, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014, general dentists earned on average $145,000 a year. Dentists who specialized in orthodontics and oral surgery came in at about $187,000 a year.

What is dental school like?

Dental school takes four years to complete. School curriculums and calendars are set up differently. For example, in some programs, students have summers off while other schools hold year-round classes. But dental programs also have several things in common. Students will likely take classes in science, such as biochemistry and anatomy along with many dental classes.  In addition to lectures, students will often have labs with their classes. Dental school also involves hands-on experience working in the student dental clinic where students treat real patients.

If you are applying to dental school, does your major in college matter?

Dental schools do not require a specific major in college. You can major in anything you like. Although admission requirements vary by program, most dental schools require certain science classes be completed. Classes in biology, physics, chemistry and organic chemistry are usually required. If you are planning on being a non-science major, make sure you know which classes you need for dental school admission and incorporate them into your degree. 

What should you do to prepare for dental school?

There are several things you can do to prepare for dental school. For instance, taking science classes in high school will give you the foundation you need. Research the profession as much as possible. Talk to dental students and dentists about the job. Once in college, meet with your academic advisor to develop a plan to meet all the admission requirements. Keep your grades up in order to have the best shot at getting accepted. Shadowing a dentist is also an excellent way to make sure the career is right for you. Your advisor may be able to help you arrange a shadowing experience.

How do you select the right dental school?

Selecting the right dental school is an important career step. Keep in mind, what makes a school the best fit is different for everyone. Consider what matters to you, such as location, tuition cost and campus activities. Research the program’s structure including whether classes are pass/fail, the curriculum, and opportunities in the student dental clinic. When the time gets closer to applying to schools, tours campuses, talk to students and review individual school’s admission requirements.

Is there an admission test to get into dental school?

The Dental Admission Test (DAT) is required before you can be accepted into a dental program. The test involves about 450 multiple choice questions in different subject areas including quantitative reasoning, perceptual ability, reading comprehension and sciences, such as chemistry and biology. The test is computer-based and held at various testing centers throughout the Unites States. The test can be taken more than once if your score is not as high as you would like. More details and information about the test can be found through the American Dental Association website.

What qualities are dental schools looking for?

Overall, dental schools are looking for students who have what it takes to make it through the rigorous program and who appear as if they will make good dentists. Dental schools are looking for students who are academically strong, well-rounded and personable. Dental related experience, such as volunteer work and shadowing are advisable. It’s also helpful to have a wide range of interests and participation in extracurricular pursuits, such as sports, social clubs, and campus or community leadership activities. Keep in mind, don’t get involved in activities you don’t like or care about just to impress a dental school.

What kind of grades do you need to get accepted?

Grades matter when applying to dental school, but they are not the only factor. A grade point average of about 3.5 is probably a good starting place, but applicants with less than a 3.5 may also get accepted. Schools also look at your grades in science classes and what activities you participated in. Your DAT scores and letters of recommendation also play a role in acceptance. While you want to do the best you can to keep your grades high, other factors also contribute to your chances of getting accepted into dental school.


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.