How to Become a Dentist: A 13 Step Guide

Dentistry is a popular and exciting career that provides many rewards, challenges, and opportunities to help people in the community achieve great oral health and a natural-looking smile.

If you are interested in a career in dentistry, read on to learn how to become a dentist.

Preparation for becoming a dentist must begin in high school as it will help you prepare for the whole journey through college and dental school.

How to Become a Dentist - Guide by Steffany Mohan DDS

The steps for becoming a dentist can be divided into three main sections:

  • High School 
  • College 
  • Dental School

High School

1. Learn Math and Science

High-level knowledge of math and science is required to become a dentist, so make sure to learn as possible about these subjects throughout your high school education. Taking the highest level of math and science classes provided at your school, such as honors or AP classes, will help prepare you for college and dental school.

2. Contact or Meet Local Dentists to Ask Questions

You can contact or meet with your local dentist in person to learn more about dentistry and determine what kind of career you are aiming for. You can ask some questions about their profession, personal career path, and advice.

3. Observe a Real Dentist

Observing a real dentist will help you learn more about the dentistry field. You can observe a real dentist’s routine work, including how they attend to patients, treat cavities, perform oral exams, extract teeth, and more, by spending a day with them. The best time to do this would be during your holiday vacation as you will be off from school, allowing you to completely focus on learning from the dentist. 

4. Apply for a Reputable College

Be sure to try your hardest to get accepted into a prestigious college. Here are some qualities that will help you qualify for pursuing your education in a reputable college:

  • High SAT or ACT scores
  • Good CGPA and proof of a challenging course load 
  • Convincing personal statement 
  • Recommendation letters 

Take enough time to work on your applications and submit them on or before the deadlines. 


5. Take Science and Predental/Pre-Health Classes

Make sure you take many sciences and health-related classes, including biology, anatomy, and organic chemistry. Choosing a science major such as biology, physics, or chemistry will help you meet the prerequisites for a dental school.

Dental school requirements include:

  • Eight hours of Organic Chemistry with lab
  • Eight hours of Biology with lab
  • Eight hours of General Chemistry with lab 
  • Eight hours of English 
  • Eight hours of Physics 

Be sure to perform well in these subjects as your scores are important.

6. Join the American Student Dental Association

You can join the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) to get free advice and publications, access to a community of aspiring dentists, mentors, scholarships, wellness, and health resources, and tips to prepare for the National Board Dental Examination.

7. Gain Real-Life Health/Dental Care Experience

If possible, get a part-time job or volunteer position in any nearby healthcare facility, especially a dental clinic. This will help you get real-life dental care experience and learn more about the dentistry with real dentists and healthcare professionals.

8. Perform Well on the DAT Exam

The Dental Admission Test (DAT) is an entrance examination conducted for dental school applicants. The DAT exam is available year-round, but the American Dental Education Association recommends dental school applicants to take the DAT exam during the spring semester of their final college year.

9. Apply to Dental Schools

Make sure you explore your options and apply to a few dental schools. Most dental students apply to 5 to 15 dental schools depending on their interests, preferences, and unique requirements.

Here are the factors that will be evaluated in your dental school application:

  • College CGPA 
  • DAT score 
  • Personal interviews 
  • Recommendation letters from dentists, science professors, or healthcare professionals you have worked with
  • The dental office shadowing experience

Dental School

A dental degree is a four-year program. The first two years of the program include basic health sciences, primary classroom, and lab instruction. During the last two years, you will work with patients under the supervision of licensed dental faculty.

10. Get Involved in Your Community

Make the most of the opportunities your dental school offers, including student clubs for dental or healthcare students, volunteer positions at dental and healthcare clinics, and more. Engaging in such activities will help you gain job experience, determine what kind of environment you would like to work in the future, and if there is any specialization you want to learn.

11. Decide Whether You Want to Specialize

While most students start their work as a general dentist, some would like to specialize in a certain field of dentistry including:

  • Pediatric Dentistry
  • Dental Anesthesiology
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology 
  • Periodontics 
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery 
  • Dental Public Health 
  • Prosthodontics 
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology 
  • Endodontics 
  • Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics 

You must continue your education for two more years if you would like to specialize in any of these fields. Also, you should get a specialty license along with your general dentistry license. 

12. Take the National Board Dental Examination

After completing your dental school, you will need to get a license to work as a dentist. You must take and pass the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE), which includes two parts: a written and clinical examination.

13. Take the Clinical Examination

The second part of getting a dental license is the live-patient or clinical examination. You can take the clinical examination only after you complete your dental school and have passed the first part of the NBDE exam. If you pass this exam, you will get a certification to practice dentistry in your state.

You may also like to read:

How I Started My Dental Practice in Iowa

How to Know Your Dental Office Waiting Room Needs a Makeover

How to Handle Unhappy Patients in Your Dental Office


Steffany Mohan, DDS

Dr. Steffany Mohan, DDS is a highly accomplished dentist, speaker, and coach in dentistry and has been practicing for around 22 years in West Des Moines, IA. She is renowned for her achievements in implant practice management and has established Plaza Dental Group as among the busiest and most thriving dental offices in Iowa