A dentist is a doctor who specializes in oral health. In order to become a dentist, an individual will need to earn either a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree or a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree. Most dentists will be listed as having a DDS degree, but both DDS and DMD degrees are basically the same thing and the distinction is just made by the university awarding the degree. Both DDS and DMD degrees indicate an individual graduated from an accredited dental school with the same curriculum requirements.

Undergraduate Program

Prior to attending dental school, an individual must complete at least 90 specified credits. Most dental schools today will require completion of an undergraduate program. Credits must include biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, anatomy, biochemistry, immunology, physiology, math and English.

Most that are interested in dental school will choose to follow a pre-dentistry, biological sciences or physiological sciences related majors in order to meet prerequisite requirements for dental school. However, unrelated majors may also be accepted into dental school if they meet the prerequisite requirements. Whatever the undergraduate program, it is important to note that GPAs will play a critical role in getting into dental school.

Dental Administration Test (DAT)

The DAT is a dental education admission test that an individual must take prior to applying to dental school. The DAT is administered year round in the United States (including Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) and Canada. The DAT is scored between 0 and 30 and consists of multiple choice questions that cover: Survey of the Natural Sciences, Perceptual Ability, Reading Comprehension and Quantitative Reasoning. The DAT program offers practice tests at a cost to help individuals understand the types of questions that will be asked.

According to Kaplan Test Prep, in order to be considered competitive, an individual will want to score above the 50th percentile, which is approximately 17 for each section. Kaplan also states that performing consistently across the board is preferred over a obtaining a very high score on one section and a very low score on another section.

Doctoral Degree

Most dental programs are small and admission will be competitive. Dental school admission requirements will vary from school to school but typically, every school will review academic qualifications, results from the DAT, GPA, letters of recommendation, personal interviews and any dental office shadowing experience.

Many dental schools also require personal interviews to assess qualities like the desire to help others, self-confidence, ability to meet challenges, ability to get along with others and the ability to work independently.

It is recommended that an individual apply for admission to dental school at least a year in advance of the planned enrollment date.


Finally, prior to being able to actually practice dentistry, an individual must undergo a licensure process. In the United States, licensure requirements vary by state but all applicants must meet the required education, written examination and clinical examination requirements. Every state will have a dental board that will have more specific information.