How to Become a Dentist
Dentist Careers & Degrees

A dentist looks after the oral hygiene of their patients, both preventing and treating diseases of the gums, teeth, and mouth.

Most dentists work in small medical centers or surgeries, and are, for the most part, self-employed.

Once you are qualified as a dentist, you can look forward to excellent job security, a good income, and a varied role.

If you’re interested in medicine and healthcare, and also have a genuine interest in people, then a career as a dentist could suit you perfectly.

Education Requirements to Become a Dentist

To qualify to become a dentist you will need to complete four years of college, followed by four years at dentistry school.

Attending a college that offers a pre-dental program is advisable.

During your time at college, you’ll need to make excellent grades in the sciences.

After you complete your undergraduate degree, most dentists complete a Bachelor’s Degree, you will need to take the DAT, or Dental Admissions Test.

Your scores on this test, as well as your results from college, will determine your entry into dental school.

The first two years of dental school are for the most part made up of theory.

You’ll be doing work in the classroom, as well as in the laboratory.

The second two years are made up of practical work, in hospitals, as well as in clinics.

While you’re a student, you will work under the supervision of qualified dentists.

After completion you will be awarded with a Doctorate in Dental Medicine, or a Doctorate in Dental Surgery.

After graduating from Dental School, you will also likely need to pass an exam set by the state board to become a dentist.

This will depend on which state you live in.

Once you pass, you will be granted your license to practice.

Dentist Job Description

  • Communicate with patients and family members
  • Diagnose and treat disease of the teeth and gums
  • Perform extractions, and other surgeries
  • Take X-rays
  • Clean teeth
  • Prescribe medication
  • Educate patients about oral care and hygiene

Apart from general dentistry, there are eight specialist fields that a dentist perform.

  • Orthodontist – straightens teeth, fit and align braces
  • Oral Surgeons – Complete surgery on the mouth or jaw
  • Endodontists – Treat and diagnose disease of the inside of the tooth
  • Oral Pathologists – Treat and diagnose disease of the mouth
  • Periodontists – treat and diagnose disease of the gum
  • Pedodontists – specializes in oral care for children
  • Prosthodontists – replace missing teeth with prosthetics
  • Public health dentists – work in research and develop education programs

Dentist Salary and Career Path

Specialty fields can be pursued with further study an training, and can offer a much larger pay package.

Many dentists branch out into new and growing areas like cosmetic dentistry, or become specialists in a niche such as denture work.

Some will go on to work exclusively with children, or elderly populations.

Some dentists go on to administrative or managerial careers in larger clinics and hospitals, while others become teachers or professors at colleges.

The median salary for a dentist is about $130,000 per year.

A new graduate working in a public hospital may earn around $60,000 per year, while a specialist dentist in private practice could earn as much as $300,000.

The employment outlook is good, this is a career that will always offer you job security.

It’s also a role that will offer much variety from day to day, as well as opportunities to take on further training and grow professionally.

Another attraction of working as a dentist is that is means you are able to work for yourself and own your own business.

The growth in dentistry is around the same as that of many other industries.

However, the high median age of dentists mean many are set to retire within the next 5-10 years, as a result there will be many new job opportunities for dentists.

When you become a dentist, it can be rewarding, especially if you gain satisfaction out of helping people.

If you have a good head for science, as well as a personable nature, then this is a career path well worth perusing.

While there is quite a large amount of study involved, the job satisfaction, security, and salary make it well worth the hard work.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Delaware- NA -
District of Columbia$167,900
New Hampshire$215,600
New Jersey$189,460
New Mexico$182,420
New York$167,090
North Carolina$191,920
North Dakota$225,770
Rhode Island$262,900
South Carolina$177,480
South Dakota$185,350
West Virginia$126,880
Puerto Rico$74,900

The top earning state in the field is Rhode Island, where the average salary is $262,900.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Rhode Island - $262,900
Vermont - $261,790
Alaska - $239,930
North Dakota - $225,770
Maine - $220,400
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Dentists, OCC Code 29-1021, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat is a dentist?

A dentist is a doctor specialized in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases of the teeth, gums, and mouth.

A dentist’s responsibilities include interpreting tests and x-rays to diagnose oral diseases, creating treatment plans, performing surgical procedures on the teeth and oral cavity.

Dentists work with dental assistants, dental hygienists, and lab technicians.

While examining the mouth, dentists examine the teeth and gums and look for swelling, discolorations or other abnormalities inside the oral cavity.

In some cases, a dentist may also perform a biopsy and other tests that can detect the presence of infectious diseases and screening tests for oral cancer.

Dentists need rigorous training but also some personal skills, such as dexterity, compassion, attention to detail and communication skills.

QuestionHow much does a dentist make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for dentists was $156,240 in May 2018.

Salaries vary depending on a wide range of factors, including the specialty, the dentist’s level of experience, the employer and the region.

Experienced dentists can make more than $200,000 a year.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become a dentist?

A dentist needs either a Doctor of Dental Medicine or a Doctor of Dental Surgery Degree, which can be obtained after finishing dental school.

Tuition, fees and other expenses vary depending on the college you choose; the dental school can cost you anywhere between $20,000-$60,000 a year at a public school and more than $60,000-$70,000 at a private school.

The first two years of dental school focus on coursework in biomedical science while the last two years focus on clinical practice.

Before enrolling at dental school, students must first complete their undergraduate studies.

Pre-dentistry programs can cost students anywhere between $15,000 and more than $60,000 a year, depending on the school they choose.

After earning their undergraduate and dental degrees, prospective dentists must finish several years of dentistry residency which can be between 2-6 years long, depending on the specialty.

QuestionWhat is the demand for dentists?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment of dentists is projected to grow 7 percent from 2018 to 2028.

This growth is explained, in part, by the fact that the demand for dental services, in general, is expected to grow as the population ages.

The demand for complex dental procedures, such as implants and bridges is also expected to grow in the future.

Overall, employment opportunities should be good for dentists, especially for those who are willing to practice in rural or underserved areas.

QuestionHow long does it take to become a dentist?

Dentists start their training with 4 years of undergraduate studies followed by 4 years of dental school.

Dental school graduates need to complete a period of residency in the field in which they wish to specialize and to earn their state license before being able to practice.

The residency period can last anywhere between 2 and 6 years, depending on the specialty.

Find a Program