How Long Does It Take to Become a Dentist?

June 26, 2023


Dental care is crucial to the role of overall health and wellness. How hard is it to become a dentist? And should you become one?

It takes eight years of schooling for most people to become a dentist — four years of undergraduate school and another four for dental school. All that investment in time yields big payoffs: being your own boss, helping patients relieve pain and look and feel their best, and constantly being challenged to learn new technologies and techniques. And you will be well-compensated, with the median annual salary for dentists topping $163,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

What to focus on as an undergraduate

Most students enroll in a pre-dentistry program for their undergraduate degrees. A pre-dentistry program is not required but helps by removing the burden of figuring out what courses you will need to qualify for dental school admission. Having the courses planned out for you ahead of time means you won’t overlook any requirements, such as biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, or physics. Many students choose to major in biology or chemistry, although that is not required as long as all prerequisite classes are passed.

Some accelerated dentistry programs combine a bachelor’s degree with a doctorate of dentistry. These programs typically take a total of six or seven years to complete compared to the traditional eight. They are compact but rigorous, usually requiring year-round class attendance. 

4 Years of Dental School

A traditional dentistry program lasts four years and results in a Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry, depending on the school. (They are essentially the same.)

Getting into one of the United States’ 69 accredited dental schools can be tough. About 57% of applicants were accepted into dental school in the 2021-22 school year, according to the American Dental Association.

Admission requires a solid score on the Dental Admission Test. Having a strong GPA and recommendations from your professors can also give you a boost. Many schools value a holistic approach to admission, meaning grades and test scores represent just one aspect of your application. Volunteer or work experience is considered along with extracurricular accomplishments, proven leadership skills, and any time spent shadowing a working dentist. 

At Aurora University, pre-dentistry students can benefit from AU’s agreements with Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM)’s Early Acceptance Program and Midwestern University. At LECOM, qualified AU students have the opportunity to gain acceptance into the Doctor of Dental Medicine program while they are still an undergraduate at AU. At Midwestern University, qualified AU students are guaranteed an interview for admission into the dental medicine program.

Once you get into dental school, you will take classes in anatomy, biology, microbiology, and dental radiology. And you’ll get practice using dental instruments on actual patients during residencies and internships. 

Additional Years for Specialty Education

If you decide to pursue a specialty – such as pediatric dentistry, orthodontics, endodontics and radiology, and periodontics – you’ll usually need to do a one- to two-year residency. In-depth specialties, such as oral surgery, can take even longer to complete. 

After that, it’s test time (again)! Dentists are required to be licensed in the state in which they want to practice. The National Board Written Exam is two parts, with 500 questions. 

It’s a long path, but the end result is enjoying a profession that helps people, challenges you, and compensates you well for your time and effort.

Ready to start pursuing your dental career?

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