How to Become a Dentist - Career Guide & Jobs

To become a dentist, you first need to determine if this career path is right for you. Do you like interacting with and helping people? Do you have an interest in oral health and hygiene? Do you have keen memory and a strong interest and ability in science? If so, then a career as a dentist may be well suited for you!


Below we've outlined what you'll need to succeed in this field. We've also included helpful information for a career as a dentist, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Educational Requirements to Become a Dentist        

You'll need to graduate with a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree, and acceptance into DDS programs is very competitive. Although requirements vary by school, most dental students need at least a bachelor's degree before they will be accepted into dental school. All dental schools require applicants to have completed certain required science courses, such as biology and chemistry. You don’t typically need to have a specific major in order to be accepted into dental school.


College and university undergraduates who plan on applying to dental school must take the Dental Aptitude Test (DAT) during their either their third or fourth year of undergraduate study (the specific year may depend on the jurisdiction). Although requirements can vary from program to program, dental schools usually use additional factors such as grade point average and recommendations, to admit students into their programs. 


Dental schools almost always require students to take classes such as local anesthesia, anatomy, periodontology and radiology. All dental schools incorporate practicum experience, where students work with patients in a clinical setting under the supervision of a licensed dentist.





General Job Description

Dentists are responsible for diagnosing, treating, preventing and controlling oral and dental disorders. They might specialize in areas such as oral surgery, pediatric dentistry, periodontics, endodontics, oral pathology, oral radiology and many others.



Duties Typical Duties of the Job

• Examine the teeth, gums and surrounding tissue of a patient

• Identify and diagnose oral and dental diseases, injuries, decay and disorders

• Restore or extract diseased, damaged and decayed teeth

• Perform oral surgery, periodontal surgery and other treatments

• Fill cavities

• Supervise dental hygienists, dental assistants and other staff

• Design bridgework, fit dentures and provide appliances to correct abnormal positioning of the teeth and jaws

• Maintain awareness of industry developments and discoveries



 Becoming a Licensed Dentist

Most jurisdictions in Canada and the United States require dentists to be licensed in order to practice.


Licensing requirements - Canada: To become a licensed dentist in Canada, you must satisfy all of the requirements established by the provincial or territorial licensing authority in which you plan to practice (which typically vary from province to province). You must also successfully pass an examination administered by The National Dental Examining Board of Canada.


Licensing requirements - United States: According to the American Dental Association, individual states are the final authority on licensure requirements. Although licensing requirements vary from state to state, all applicants must meet three basic requirements: an education requirement, a written examination requirement and a clinical examination requirement.



Crucial Personality Traits to Have 

In order to truly enjoy your work and be successful in this profession, you'll need to have the following personal attributes:


• You enjoy interacting with and helping people

• An interest in a career that offers challenge and variety

• You enjoy being self-employed

• You're interested in helping people maintain and improve their oral health

• You have excellent manual dexterity and spatial judgment

• You have keen memory and a strong interest and ability in science



Work Environment Typical to This Profession

Conditions: Typically, dentists work in a dental clinic setting. They are required to wear masks, gloves and safety glasses to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases.  


Schedule: Dentists mostly, although not always, work full-time, normal weekday working hours. They may be required to work evenings and weekends in order to meet their patients’ needs; after-hours emergency care may be required on occasion. 





Is Becoming a Dentist a Good Fit for You?

Being a dentist can be very rewarding, as dentists provide their patients with essential health services. However, a career as a dentist can be quite demanding and stressful as well. Below are some positive and negative aspects of a career as a dentist. Before you apply for dental school, ensure this career path is right for you!


• On average, dental graduates earn more than any other graduates in Canada

• Many dentists run their own practice, which gives them the freedom to make their own decisions and set their own hours

• Successfully treating patients can be an extremely rewarding experience

• Being a dentist requires insurance; not everyone will be pleased with your work

• Some patients can be extremely difficult to treat, as they may not be very cooperative


Success Tip: Talk to your dentist; explain your interest in becoming a dentist to them and ask them what they like and dislike about the career



Preparing for a Career in Dentistry While in School

If you’re a high school or university student and you want to become a dentist, it is best to start planning as soon as you can. Below are some things you can do to work towards your future career as a dentist while you are still a student.


First and second year of undergraduate studies (freshman and sophomore years):


• Pursue chemistry, biology, physics and organic chemistry coursework

• Speak to your school’s career advisors about your career ambitions

• Join a dental-related student organization

• Speak with your dentist about your career ambitions

• Consider job shadowing and /or volunteer experience

• Attend career fairs at your school


Third year (junior year):


• Research possible dental schools

• Complete dentistry prerequisite requirements by end of 2nd semester

• Make preparations for the DAT (Dental Aptitude Test)

• Apply for admission at least a year in advance

• Gather letters of evaluation and recommendation from faculty and others


Final year (senior year):


• Participate in “mock” interview practice with Career Services staff before dental school admissions interviews

• Research sources of financial aid, and complete necessary forms

• Send thank you notes to evaluators, advisors and mentors


Who Employs Dentists? Where Do They Work?

There are a variety of career options for dentists. Some dentists may be employed by organizations such as research agencies, government agencies (including the military), public health facilities or universities. However, most often dentists have the following work arrangements:


• Self-employed as solo practitioners

• Part of a partnership with an established dental practitioner (as an associate)

• Form a group practice with other dentists



How Much Do They Earn?

A career as a dentist is one of the most lucrative professions you can pursue. The salary level of dentists can vary widely depending on many factors, such as:


• Their level of education

• Their level of experience

• Where they work (and what their commission structure is, if applicable)

• Whether or not they are self-employed


Dentist Salary Canada (Alberta figures only): According to the 2014 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey (the latest figures available at the time of writing - June 13, 2019), Albertans in the Dentists occupational group earned a mean wage of $154,654 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories. 


Dentist Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of American dentists is $146,920 per year.



Job Openings - Current Opportunities

Our job board below has "Dentist" postings in your area, when available:




Similar Occupational Profiles in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to this one, as they involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.



Medical Scientist







Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of this profession.


Occupations in Alberta:Dentist.” (March 27, 2014). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 10, 2019.

Healthcare:Dentists.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 10, 2019.

Requirements:Becoming a licensed dentist in Canada.” (n.d.). The National Dental Examining Board of Canada website. Retrieved November 10, 2019.

Careers in Dentistry:Be a Dentist.” (n.d.). American Dental Association website. Retrieved November 10, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Dentist

Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming a dentist can be found on our Biology Scholarships, Biochemistry Scholarships and Chemistry Scholarships pages.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for getting started in this field. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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