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How Long Does It Take to Become a Dentist? An In-Depth Explanation

Date Posted: 05.16.22

Deciding to become a dentist can be a rewarding career choice. You get to help people improve and maintain their oral health, but you also have the chance to impact people’s lives daily.

However, becoming a dentist takes a lot of hard work and dedication. It can also take a long time—and a lot of money—to complete the necessary education and training. With that in mind, the answer to “how long does it take to become a dentist?” depends on several factors, including:

  • The type of dentist you want to be
  • Current level of education and training

How Long Does it Take to Become a Dentist?

Dentists help people avoid serious tooth problems by diagnosing them early on and treating them effectively once they do occur.

Becoming a dentist requires anywhere from six to eight years of study. This is highly dependent on whether or not you choose to specialize in your dentistry studies. For example, you will require extra training and research to become an oral surgeon or a periodontist. Students who don’t want to specialize may be able to reduce the amount of time they spend in school by enrolling in a combined degree program.

So, how many years of school does it take to be a dentist? Timelines can be affected by a variety of circumstances. However, these are the typical steps you need to accomplish before you earn a DDS or DMD:

Undergraduate School

This is your first step when it comes to determining how long does it take to be a dentist. To enroll in most dental schools, you must already have a bachelor’s degree in some field. Generally speaking, a bachelor’s degree takes four years of schooling.

The amount of time it takes to become a dentist can be influenced by the undergraduate major you choose. Students who major in biology, chemistry, or pre-medicine at the undergraduate level may have to take fewer courses in dentistry school. Some students may pursue a double degree to better prepare themselves for dentistry school. However, this can take longer to accomplish.

Dental School

Once you have a bachelor’s degree, you can move on to dental school. But, how long is dental school?

According to the framework below, most dentistry school curriculums involve a four-year program. If you have a specific school in mind, be sure to visit the school’s website or look up the school’s profile to learn more about its program.

Year One and Two

Students’ clinical education begins with simulation in biological science classes.

Basic biological sciences, including human anatomy and physiology, and disorders that can affect the human body, take up the majority of the first two years of dentistry school for most students.

Included in certain classes are:

  • Anatomy
  • Anatomy and physiology of the mouth
  • Biochemistry
  • Dental Pharmacology
  • Medical specialization in the field of oral pathology
  • Microbiology
  • Oral morphology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology

As part of their coursework, dental hygiene students may also encounter individuals who require only the most basic oral health care. First-year dental students spend much of their time outside of core coursework performing operations on dental models.

Year Three and Four

The final two years of dentistry school are primarily devoted to direct patient care and practice management teaching. Students will learn how to care for dental patients of all ages, including those who are chronically sick, disabled, special needs, and elderly.

Dental students typically work under the supervision of a clinical teacher in various clinics, hospitals, and other off-campus community settings at numerous colleges. This provides students the chance to work closely with other physicians and healthcare professions students, providing them an understanding of a team-based approach to health care.

Dental schools frequently alter their curricula to accommodate the demands of a dynamic student body, but the basic structure of the curriculum is the same across the board.

Dental Residency

Now, let’s explore how long is dental residency?

Certain general practice programs span just six months, whereas some surgical programs can run up to six years, depending on the specialty.

The length of a postdoctoral program may be a significant factor after a conventional eight-year undergraduate and Ph.D. study.

Consequently, after eight years of full-time undergraduate and dental school study, not everyone chooses to enter a residency program right after that. Some people may decide to put off starting a residency program for years to make the best decision for their career and family, or even because particular specialty programs have a very competitive admission procedure.

Some dental residency programs don’t award the same academic certifications to their graduates. In fact, these can range from certificates to master’s degrees in a particular field. Master’s or Ph.D. degrees in oral and maxillofacial surgery are joint in the most prestigious residency programs.

Dental Specialties

The procedure of obtaining a dental license differs from becoming a dental specialist. For the latter, you’ll almost certainly require more specialized instruction.

Here are the most common specialties that many pursue:

General dentistry

People of all ages receive most of their dental treatment from a general dentist. This includes an examination of your mouth (including teeth, gums, and other tissues) and complete professional cleaning. You will also be allowed to discuss your dental (and general) health with your dentist. If your dental exam shows tooth decay, you’ll likely need a filling. However, it’s worth noting that their treatments vary significantly and are dependent on the individual practice.


Orthodontists (sometimes called oral surgeons) are doctors who specialize in fixing teeth and jaws that are not aligned properly. They can help patients improve their smiles and prevent or fix serious jaw problems that cause problems like headaches and difficulty chewing or talking. They can also help patients who are missing teeth.

Residency After Dental School: Three years

Oral and maxillofacial pathologists

An oral and maxillofacial pathologist (OMPL) is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases, like oral cancer, as well as ailments of the mouth, face, and jaws. They also evaluate and treat disorders such as facial pain and headaches. OMPLs have additional medical training in other fields, such as oncology, radiology, and neurology.

Residency After Dental School: Three years

Pediatric dentist

A pediatric dentist focuses on children’s oral health care. They are trained to care for children of all ages, from newborns to adolescents. They provide care for all dental needs a child may need, from routine cleanings and check-ups to more complex procedures like dental implants, fillings, and extractions. They also educate families on how to take better care of their children’s teeth and gums.

Residency After Dental School: Two to three years

Oral and maxillofacial radiologist

It is the primary responsibility of an oral and maxillofacial radiologist to analyze and interpret the diagnostic images. Oral radiologists are regularly called in when X-rays are taken to help other dental professionals evaluate the data.

Residency After Dental School: Two to three years


Periodontists are dentists trained to treat the diseases of the teeth and gums, as well as all aspects of dentistry, including oral hygiene and prosthetic dentistry. Periodontists are usually specialists in the treatment of periodontitis (osteitis) and gum disease such as gingivitis.

Residency After Dental School: Three years


A Prosthodontist specializes in fixing missing teeth and dental prosthetics. They are sometimes called “forensic dentists” because they examine and treat dental injuries caused by trauma, disease, and age. A prosthetist fabricates and fits dental prosthetics such as dentures, crowns, and bridges. They may also design and fabricate replacement teeth and dental appliances.

Residency After Dental School: Three years


An Endodontist focuses on the diseases and injuries related to the tooth’s nerve and pulp tissue. They may also manage complex cases of dental and periodontal infections and trauma.

Residency After Dental School: Two to three years

State Exams

There are a few examinations that you need to keep in mind when calculating how many years does it take to become a dentist:

Dental Admission Test (DAT)

All future dentists must pass this exam. If you want to attend dental school directly after graduating from college, you should take this test in September of your final year of university.

National Board Dental Examination

You may take these tests while still in dentistry school, which is excellent news. This will not add any more time to the process of becoming a dentist if it is taken concurrently with your schooling.

Clinical Examination

The term “clinical dental examination” refers to an examination performed on a living patient.

This test has two crucial aspects to keep in mind. To begin with, you may not have to take it at all if you live in an area where it isn’t required. The second most crucial point is that you can repeat the test if you fail the first time.

How Long Does It Take to Become A Dentist?

As a general dentist, you’ll need to put in about eight years of schooling following high school. To specialize, you’ll need to add two years to your timetable for each specialty.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Dentist? FAQs

Is it easier to become a dentist than a doctor?

If you’re considering becoming a dentist or a doctor, you should consider other factors before asking this question. The educational requirements for each of these occupations are nearly identical and maybe just as taxing. Final working conditions might have a more significant impact.

For example, a doctor will likely deal with trauma, mortality and encounter deadly illnesses while also juggling a chaotic schedule. A dentist, on the other hand, typically is able to avoid these scenarios and work a more normal schedule.

Is earning a dental degree difficult?

Becoming a dentist is indeed a challenging endeavor. After high school, students must complete four years of undergraduate study and earn a bachelor’s degree before beginning dentistry school. Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) and Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD) degrees need a significant amount of schooling before an individual may practice dentistry (DMD).

In addition, dentistry school admissions are based on a student’s academic performance. If your grades aren’t stellar, it’s quite unlikely that you’ll get admitted compared to other candidates with higher GPAs.

What is the highest-paying specialty in dentistry?

As a dentist, it’s impossible to determine which specialization pays the most because so many factors come into play. For example, earnings can be affected by the number of patients you see each day. Dentists’ pay may differ depending on where they work in the country. That said, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average medium general dentist made  was $164,000 per year in 2020. Orthodontists and oral surgeons earned an average of $208,00 per year.

How long do dentists go to school in total?

It can take anywhere between six and eight years to become a dentist. However, several factors can affect this estimate.

Regarding how many years is dental school, it might vary depending on the one you attend. Most dental schools need students to have a bachelor’s or perhaps a master’s degree before they may apply. That’s a minimum of four years before you can even practice dentistry there.

If you can stay on track and graduate on time, dental school will take another four years. On the other hand, many aspiring dentists choose a specialization to narrow their scope of practice.

As an alternative to a complete undergraduate degree, several dental schools offer early entry programs that only need a few years of preparatory work before dental school, affecting how long to become a dentist.

Do Most Dentists Move into Private Practice?

Even though many dentists choose to create their own private practice, it is not the only option available to you.

They may join a practice or work in a dental clinic, but not all dentists do so. Dentists can also do public health dentistry. Working for a government agency like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Institute of Health is considered public health dentistry. Research, the creation of public health outreach initiatives, and public policy formulation are examples of possible tasks. Dentists can also work in dental labs or teach at dental colleges and universities.

How difficult is it to go to dentistry school?

The workload in dental school is enormous. However, the difficulty of dentistry school is relative and has more to do with the student than it does with the dental school itself.

To become a doctor, whether it be a dentist or a doctor of medicine, is quite challenging.

Is your college major relevant if you’re applying to dentistry school?

No specific college major is mandatory for admission into dental schools. Most dental schools need students to have completed a specified number of scientific classes before admission. However, students are expected to take biology, physics, chemistry, and organic chemistry courses. Ensure you know what subjects you need for dental school entrance if you do not intend to be a science major.

What can you do to prepare for a career in dentistry?

You may do several things to better your chances of getting into dentistry school. Taking scientific subjects in high school, for example, will offer you a solid foundation.

As much as possible, do your homework on the field. It’s good to ask dental students and dentists about their experiences. Begin developing a strategy for completing all of the entrance criteria once you’ve started college. If you’re unsure if dentistry is the correct career path, consider shadowing a dentist. You might arrange a shadowing opportunity through your adviser.

Run Your Practice Efficiently

The path to becoming a dentist is long and challenging. But it is also a gratifying career that allows you to help people by improving their smiles and overall quality of life.

Once you are a dentist, rely on Cloud 9 to make it easier for your regular patients to return and bring in new ones. Our platform frees up your time with powerful, easy-to-use automation capabilities so that you can focus your complete attention on your patients. By choosing Cloud 9’s orthodontic solutions, you can keep regular contact with your patients to ensure they’ll stay lifelong clients.

Contact Cloud 9 today for a free demo!