How long does it take to become a dentist? The answer is usually eight years; “usually” because there can be so many things that happen in those eight years. You can decide to take a year off before going into dental school or decide that you want to take a year off during your studies to pursue another degree. In those cases, it can take up to a decade to become a dentist. But the opposite is true as well. While no offer three-year programs, there are a few in the US if you are interested in a faster, but more intense, path. This article will explore all the various pathways to , and how long they take.
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Similar to , becoming a dentist takes between eight and ten years. This timeline is based on the time it takes to get an undergraduate degree (four years); plus, the time it takes to finish dental school (another four years). But unlike medical school graduates who have to complete at least one year of residency to take their licensing exams, dental school graduates have more choices after graduation.
You can either:
- Get certified in a dental specialty or sub-specialty
- Take either a hospital or community-based residency program
- Enter private practice
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If you decide on the first two options, you’ll usually spend another year or two in training or performing your residency, which will add more time to your timeline. But if you decide to enter private practice by yourself or with a group of other dentists, then you can start practicing as soon as you pass your licensing exams.
Whichever path you take is based on the goals you set for yourself back when you were thinking ? Of course, the goals you set yourself can always change, especially during dental school. In dental school, you’ll be introduced to the various career paths that you can take as a dental school graduate that you may have never known about, which may change your mind about the conventional path of opening a private practice or entering a group practice.
For example, there are over 12 different specialties within dentistry that you could pursue if they interest you. Of course, a lot also depends on the type of student you are, as non-traditional and international students will have a different timeline compared to traditional students who come directly from undergraduate programs. Internationally-trained dentists often have to complete an accelerated two-year certification program to be able to take the licensing exams in both the US and Canada.
So here we’ll lay out the different timelines for how long it takes to become a dentist, based on the various types of students who enter dental school:
- Traditional university graduate
- Mature student
- International student
And try to give you an idea of how long it takes for each pathway. Unlike other professions and degrees, such as the law or an MBA, there are no part-time classes, online courses or other ways for you to speed up this timeline. The most you could possibly shave off is a year, or two, so don’t think there are shortcuts to becoming a dentist.
Undergraduate Degree (4 years)
One of the most universal is having a four-year bachelor’s degree. Although, there are exceptions. Many dental schools in both Canada and the US will accept applications from students with at least 90 credits completed and a GPA above a certain threshold, 3.5, for example. Choosing to go to a is one way that you could possibly shorten the time it takes to become a dentist.
If you are able to complete the 90 credits it takes to be accepted, and maintain a high GPA, you could apply to dental school sooner than those who complete their four-year degree. But again, that is only a savings of one year, and it also means that you have to work even harder to complete the necessary dental school prerequisites and keep your grades up.
The most common type of dental school prerequisites are science-based and cover the usual three subjects:
- Inorganic and Organic Chemistry
Depending on the dental school, they may require more prerequisites in non-science areas such as the humanities or psychology. But if you are able to cover at least the three science-based courses and get grades at or above C or C- then you will still be a viable applicant, provided you cover other important aspects, such as getting enough and having a significant number of dentist shadowing hours.
Shadowing a dentist is when you, with their prior consent, follow a practicing dentist during the course of a day as they perform their duties. Knowing is something you need to learn in order to get the most from the experience, as many dental schools now have a certain number of shadowing hours you have to complete to apply.
The dental schools that do not require a full bachelor’s degree still recommend you complete a four-year degree. It’s good advice, given all the prerequisites and extracurriculars that you have to prepare to be a competitive candidate, on top of attending classes, studying and getting good grades. And we haven’t even mentioned the Dental Admissions Test (DAT), which is something else you have to dedicate time and energy to in order to get into dental school.
Dental School (4 Years for university graduates and mature students; 2 years for international, foreign-trained dentists)
As of this writing there are only two dental schools in the United States that offer accelerated three-year programs:
- Roseman University College of Dentistry
- University of the Pacific Dugoni School of Dentistry
Three-year dental schools are not as widespread as so, your chances for becoming a dentist in only three years are slim to none, unless you apply to these particular schools. But finishing your dental degree as soon as possible is not something you should be striving for, especially if you’re an undergraduate student.
If you’ve already made it into dental school, then it is an experience that should be savored and not sped through. Attending dental school will give you a tremendous number of opportunities to grow, learn and develop and you should take advantage of this time to find out what you really want to do with your dental degree.
Medical and dental schools last four years for a reason – to prepare you for a challenging, high-stakes profession where you are responsible for the health and well-being of patients. In dental school, as in medical school, your four years are usually divided in two:
- Preclinical years (first two years) – where you are introduced to the science and art of dentistry, through classes, lectures, seminars and labs
- Clinical years (last two years) – where you interact directly with patients and learn more about patient care, management, while also performing rounds at local hospitals and clinics
Every dental school will have variations on this scheme. Some dental schools pride themselves on introducing you to direct-patient care in your first year. Others emphasize the longitudinal nature of their curricula, as they introduce different aspects of being a dentist and healthcare, in general, such as public health and social detriments to health, throughout the entirety of your four years.
The following is a list of the many different specialties within dentistry that you can get certified in, if you decide to pursue a particular specialty.
- Oral Medicine: 2-3 years
- Oral Surgery: 4-6 years
- Orthodontics: 2-3 years
- Prosthodontics: 2-3 years
- Pediatrics: 2-3 years
- General Practice: 1 year
- Endodontics: 2-3 years
- Periodontics: 2-3 years
- Dental Anesthesia: 3 years
- Oral Radiology: 2-3 years
The most popular of these post-graduation programs is general residency, as over 1200 students graduated from general residency programs in the US last year. But according to the American Dental Association, very few dental school graduates actually complete either the general practice residency or the second most popular, advanced education in general dentistry residency.
Should I Do a Dental Residency?
In percentages, only 17% of dental school graduates opted to take the general practice residency, while only 11% choose to take an advanced education program. These statistics show that the majority of dental school graduates in the US choose to begin their practices right away without any additional training, as it is not required by state and national licensing boards.
In the US, you only need to have your DDS or DDM from an accredited school to be able to take the Integrated National Board Dental Examination (INBDE) followed by examinations at the state level. The process is similar in Canada, as you need only a degree to be able to take the National Dental Examining Board of Canada exam, receive your certificate and then apply for a license in a specific province.
The reason so few graduate students choose to take a residency program is the cost. Unlike medical school residencies, which are paid, many dental school residencies are the opposite; you have to pay and they are not cheap. There are a few specialties, such as oral surgery that may be paid, depending on where you apply.
But given the enormous cost of dental school, and the added cost of getting a certificate in a dental specialty, it makes more sense to start earning money right away. However, the Catch-22 is that getting certified in a dental specialty, despite the investment of time and money, may help you earn more, in the long-run. So even though it may take you longer to pay back your loans, and to earn that high salary, once you do, it will be easier on both fronts.
Mature students can come from various backgrounds and have very specific circumstances that can either speed up or slow down the amount of time it takes to become a dentist like how long you’ve been out of school, and whether you have a bachelor’s degree or not. For this article, let’s assume you’re a mature student over the age of 25. Let’s also imagine that you already have a bachelor’s degree, which counts for 4 years of your timeline towards becoming a dentist.
You’ve never taken the DAT, which is something you have to do. A typical involves four or five months of preparation, but you can give yourself more time if you feel you need it. But things get complicated if you’ve been out of school for more than five years. Most dental schools usually require your transcripts be no older than five years. If you’ve been out of school for less than five years, you can still apply without adding one year, at the most, two, to your timeline.
But if have been out of school for more than five years, you need to add at least a year, or two, because you’d have to take a pre-dental course offered either by the dental school you want to enter or another. These pre-dental programs function in the same way to , in that they allow you to brush up on science fundamentals, and give you a chance to increase your GPA.
This will also help you complete most of the prerequisites require you need to complete. If you apply for a post-bacc bridge or pathway program at the school you want to go to, it may come with an interview guarantee, if you meet certain academic criteria (high GPA, for example). But it is rare post-baccs also come with admission guarantees. Some programs may not even offer interview guarantees, so you have to review the programs exact guidelines about either admission or interview guarantees.
With all this said, if you have a bachelor’s degree, and haven’t been out of school for more than five years, it will take around four years – the length of dental school – to become a dentist. But if don’t have a bachelor’s and have been out of school for longer than becoming a dentist will take you between 5-6 years.
Post-Bacc/Health Professions Certificate (1-2 years)
The good thing about most post-bacc programs is that they usually only last one year, maybe two, depending on the program. The downside is that they also charge tuition, even though it is not as expensive as four years of dental school. You’ll find that programs can charge anywhere between $10,000 and $30,000. But many post-bacc programs are aimed at people from disadvantaged and historically underrepresented communities, so you may be eligible for scholarships or grants if the program has specific criteria for incoming students.
When we talk about international student, we mean someone who has already received a dental school degree in their home country, which is not recognized or accredited according to the standards of either the US or Canada. International students, when it comes to dental schools, can also mean undergraduates from outside North America who want to learn and eventually practice in the US or Canada. Except, many dental schools in Canada and the US do not accept non-citizens or permanent residents of either country into their domestic DMD or DDS programs.
There are exceptions, but many schools often create a separate, two-year track for foreign dental school graduates to become certified in the US or Canada. Being a foreign dental school graduate means that you have also completed at the minimum a four-year undergraduate degree, along with the four years it usually takes to earn a DDS or DMD. But there are so many variations.
In the UK, for example, there are many more pathways to take, as you can begin a bachelor’s degree in dentistry but the bachelor’s degree is your DDS, so your undergrad is essentially your dental school. Regardless of where you come from, let’s assume that you already put in eight years to get your dental school degree.
If you are a foreign dental school graduate, your degree will not be recognized by the licensing bodies in either country, as they require a degree from accredited dental schools in North America. But this does not mean you have to repeat dental school. These international programs are as short as possible to help foreign-trained dentists speed up the certification process.
For example, the University of Alabama’s International Dentist Program (IDP) puts you through a six-month preparatory course to help re-introduce you to the medical and scientific aspects of dentistry. However, after you complete this course, you’ll be integrated into the third year of the domestic program, which is when domestic students learn specifically about patient care, so you’ll become more acquainted with the cultural nuances of being a dentist in the US.
You and domestic students will also both have the opportunity to go out into the community and do rounds in local clinics to further cement. Ultimately, you will also graduate with the domestic students, and received your American DDS that will allow you to take the national and state licensing board exams.
We wanted to answer “how long does it take to become a dentist?” and we hope we’ve answered the question. But finishing your program as soon as possible should not be your ultimate goal. Many people enter dental school because they love it and it's been their dream their whole lives. You may not be as passionate about it, but it is still a rewarding, life-changing experience that you should take your time with, as you would with any worthwhile pursuit.
1. How long does it take to become a dentist?
It can take somewhere between eight to ten years to become a dentist, although all these years may not be taken up by undergraduate and dental school. You may have a different timeline based on your background, but it usually takes eight to ten years.
2. Is becoming a dentist worth the time and money?
Going to dental school is neither easy nor cheap. In fact, some dental programs cost more than medical school. But if you don’t see yourself doing anything else and are truly passionate about dentistry, then investing eight or more years of your life and a significant amount of money is worth it.
3. Why do dental school last four years?
Dental school lasts for four years because it gives equal time to the two parts of the curriculum – preclinical and clinical experience. In your first two years, you learn about the science and medicine involved in dentistry. In the final two years you put your knowledge into practice through clinical rotations and direct patient experience.
4. Why is dental school so expensive?
There are many reasons why dental school can seem more expensive than medical school or other healthcare professions. Some of the reasons are inflation, and schools raising their fees to cover their costs, but other reasons have to do with dentistry itself. Dental students have a lot more equipment, supplies and fees to cover whereas medical schools use hospitals, clinics, and equipment they own to help train students.
5. How can I become a dentist faster?
If you want to become a dentist faster, you can either: try to complete the prerequisites required by most schools before finishing your four-year degree; choose a three-year program (only two available at this time); refrain from taking any extra training or doing a residency after graduation from dental school.
6. What do I need to become a dentist?
You typically need high GPA and DAT scores to be a competitive candidate academically, but you also need to have manual dexterity, which is something that will be covered in your and the asked on the application. You also need to submit a and up to three .
7. How can I prepare to get into dental school?
Start by completing all the necessary prerequisites, as well as getting in your shadowing hours. You should also prepare for the DAT exam and participate in various extracurriculars to give you experience and the kind of qualities dental schools are looking for, like resilience, patience, communication skills, empathy, and leadership.
8. How much does dental school cost?
The cost of getting a DDS or DMD varies between schools and countries. In the US, you can expect to pay anywhere between $100,000 to $120,000 (all costs included; tuition, living expenses, fees). In Canada, the price tag can be anywhere between $50,000 to $100,00, again factoring in all related expenses.