Dentistry is a dynamic and evolving profession.  According to the American Dental Association, ADA, "a dental education opens up a world of professional opportunities. In addition to private practice, today's dental school graduates can choose to work in hospital emergency rooms, conduct laboratory research, teach future dentists or even travel the world with international health and relief organizations. If you are looking for a rewarding career in health care with competitive salary and sustainable work-life balance, dentistry may be for you."

How to become a Dentist:

1.      Determine whether you possess the general characteristics needed to be a dentist: 

  • Aptitude for science
  • Good manual dexterity
  • A friendly and approachable personality
  • Communication skills and business sense
  • Genuine caring and belief that good oral hygiene is an integral part of health care

2.      Obtain a bachelor's degree that includes the required pre-requisites. 

  • Many pre-dentistry students choose a science major (Biology, Chemistry, etc.) to help with their preparation, but you can choose any major that interests you as long as you complete the required coursework (pre-reqs) for a graduate program.
  • Start looking into graduate programs that interest you early in your college career so you can be sure to complete the pre-reqs for each.
  • For the pre-reqs necessary for the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus' Dental Program, click here

3.      Prepare for and take the Dental Admission Test, DAT.

4.      Apply to various dental schools through the American Association of Dental Schools Application Service, AADSAS - applications open in June each year (

  •  Make sure your chosen dental school is accredited through the ADA's Commission on Dental Accreditation, CODA.
  • Check for early selection programs
  • Be aware of time to have everything verified - can take 4-5 weeks
  • Check for supplemental requirements - based on programs
  • Be prepared financially - application fees, supplemental fees, and travel/lodging/food costs when interviewing, etc... can add up fast!

5.      Attend dental school for four years including two years of classroom and lab studies and two years of practical experience working with dentists in the field. Graduate with the degree:

  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)
  • Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD)

**According to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), "D.M.D. and D.D.S. are equivalent degrees that are awarded to dental students upon completion of the same types of programs"

6.      Complete your state's license requirements to obtain the ability to practice dentistry. 

  • Usually requires passing practical tests at the regional and state levels and passing the written National Board Dental Examination administered by the American Dental Association

7.      Pursue a license in one of nine specialties if you so choose:

  • Orthodontist
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon
  • Pediatric Dentist
  • Endodontist
  • Periodontist
  • Prosthodontist
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologist
  • Dental Public Health Specialist or Oral Pathologist

Becoming a specialist requires completion of the following requirements:

  • Continue post graduate education for at least 2 years
  • Postgraduate residency for up to 2 years

 Academic Requirements 

Pre-reqs for the University of Colorado Denver School of Dental Medicine:

  • General Biology I & II (with labs)
  • General Chemistry I & II (with labs)
  • Organic Chemistry I & II (with labs)
  • Physics I & II (with labs) - algebra based
  • Math - College Algebra & above
  • English composition I & II (needs only 1)

**Not all schools accept AP/IB credit - check each one

Additional course requirements

  • Microbiology
  • Anatomy & Physiology I & II
  • Bacteriology/Mycology
  • Biochemistry

Strongly recommended courses

  • Cell biology, genetics, biochemistry, anatomy & physiology, immunology, social sciences, business courses, communication, computer science, biostatistics, ethics

Schools & Programs

Click here for the ADA's Commission on Dental Accreditation - list of accredited schools

 Colorado Dental Programs:

Additional Resources and Links