So you have a toothache and made an appointment with your dentist, but it got you wondering – did your dentist go to medical school like other doctors? Or do dentists have a separate educational path? This is a common question many patients have.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Dentists do not go to the same medical school as physicians and surgeons. They complete at least 2 years of general prerequisite courses, then 4 years of dental school where they earn a DDS or DMD degree.

Some choose to pursue additional residency training.

Dentists Complete a Specialized Education

When it comes to dental care, many people wonder about the educational path dentists must take in order to become licensed professionals. Contrary to popular belief, dentists do not attend medical school; instead, they complete a specialized education that focuses specifically on dentistry.

This article will delve into the different aspects of a dentist’s education, from prerequisite courses to specialized degrees and optional residency programs.

Prerequisite Courses

Before being admitted to dental school, aspiring dentists must complete a set of prerequisite courses that provide a strong foundation in the sciences. These courses typically include biology, chemistry, physics, and anatomy.

By mastering these subjects, future dentists gain the necessary knowledge to understand the intricacies of oral health and the human body as a whole. Prerequisite courses may vary slightly between dental schools, but the core subjects remain consistent.

4 Years of Dental School

After completing their undergraduate education, students who wish to become dentists must enroll in a four-year dental school program. Dental schools provide a comprehensive curriculum that combines classroom learning with hands-on clinical experience.

Students learn about various dental procedures, oral health diagnoses, and treatment planning. They also gain practical experience by working with patients under the supervision of experienced dental faculty.

The curriculum of dental school is designed to equip students with the necessary skills to diagnose and treat various oral health conditions, perform dental surgeries, and provide preventive care. Throughout their four years of dental school, students undergo rigorous training to ensure they are well-prepared to enter the field of dentistry as competent and knowledgeable practitioners.

DDS vs DMD Degree

Upon graduating from dental school, dentists are awarded either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. The DDS and DMD degrees are essentially equivalent, as both signify that the individual has completed the necessary education and training to practice dentistry.

The difference in terminology is simply a matter of preference by the dental school or institution.

Optional Residency Programs

After completing dental school, some dentists choose to further their education and skills by pursuing optional residency programs. These programs provide additional training in specialized areas of dentistry such as orthodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, or pediatric dentistry.

Residency programs typically last for an additional two to six years, depending on the chosen specialty.

During a residency program, dentists work alongside experienced professionals in a clinical setting, gaining hands-on experience and refining their skills in their chosen specialty. These programs offer dentists the opportunity to become experts in specific areas of dentistry and provide advanced care to their patients.

Key Differences Between Dentists and Physicians

Focus of Training

Dentists and physicians undergo different training programs due to their distinct areas of specialization. While physicians focus on the overall health and treatment of the human body, dentists primarily specialize in oral health.

Dentists are trained to diagnose and treat conditions related to the teeth, gums, and mouth, while physicians deal with a broader range of medical conditions affecting various parts of the body.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the dental training curriculum includes coursework in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and dental sciences. Dentists also learn about oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics, periodontics, and other dental specialties.

On the other hand, physicians attend medical school and receive training in a wide range of medical disciplines such as internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, and surgery.

Length of Schooling

The length of schooling for dentists and physicians differs significantly. Dentists typically complete four years of undergraduate education followed by four years of dental school. After dental school, dentists may choose to pursue additional training in a specialized area, such as orthodontics or oral surgery, which can add a few more years to their education.

Physicians, on the other hand, undergo a longer educational journey. They typically complete four years of undergraduate education, followed by four years of medical school. After medical school, physicians must complete residency programs, which can range from three to seven years, depending on their chosen specialty.

This means that the total length of education and training for physicians can range from 11 to 15 years or even more.

Licensing Exams

Both dentists and physicians are required to pass licensing exams to practice professionally. Dentists in the United States must pass the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE) Part I and Part II, as well as a clinical exam administered by their state’s dental board.

Additionally, dentists who wish to specialize in a particular area may need to pass additional exams specific to their chosen specialty.

Physicians, on the other hand, are required to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) to obtain their medical license.

These exams are divided into three steps, with each step covering different aspects of medical knowledge and clinical skills.

It’s important to note that while dentists and physicians have different training and licensing requirements, both professions play crucial roles in maintaining overall health and well-being. Regular visits to both dental and medical professionals are essential for optimal health.

Common Dental School Admission Requirements

For those aspiring to become a dentist, gaining admission to dental school is the first step on their journey. Dental school admission requirements can vary slightly from one institution to another, but there are some common criteria that most schools look for in prospective students.

These requirements help ensure that applicants have the necessary academic foundation and potential to succeed in a dental program. Here are some of the key admission requirements:

Academic Grades

One of the most important factors that dental schools consider is an applicant’s academic performance. A strong academic record, particularly in science-related courses such as biology, chemistry, and physics, is highly valued.

Admissions committees typically look for candidates who have excelled in their coursework and have maintained a competitive GPA. While there is no specific GPA cutoff for dental school admission, a high GPA certainly increases the chances of acceptance.

Entrance Exams

Another crucial requirement for dental school admission is the completion of entrance exams. The most common exam required by dental schools is the Dental Admission Test (DAT). The DAT assesses an applicant’s scientific knowledge, perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning skills.

It is essential for applicants to prepare adequately for this exam to achieve a competitive score. Additionally, some dental schools may require applicants to take other standardized tests, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for non-native English speakers.


Hands-on experience in a dental setting is highly valued by dental schools. Admissions committees look for applicants who have gained practical experience through shadowing or working alongside dentists.

This experience not only demonstrates a genuine interest in the field but also provides valuable insights into the day-to-day responsibilities of a dentist. Some dental schools may also require a minimum number of hours or specific types of dental experience as part of their admission criteria.

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation provide insights into an applicant’s character, work ethic, and potential to succeed in dental school. Dental schools typically require two to three letters of recommendation, which are usually written by professors, dentists, or other professionals who have closely interacted with the applicant.

These letters should highlight the applicant’s strengths, skills, and personal qualities that make them a suitable candidate for dental school. It is important for applicants to carefully choose individuals who can provide a well-rounded perspective on their abilities.

It is important for aspiring dentists to carefully review the specific admission requirements of the dental schools they are interested in, as some institutions may have additional criteria. Additionally, meeting the minimum requirements does not guarantee admission, as dental schools often receive a high number of qualified applicants.

Therefore, it is crucial for applicants to showcase their unique qualities, experiences, and passion for the field of dentistry to stand out from the competition.

What’s Taught in Dental School

Basic Sciences

Dental school curriculum includes a comprehensive study of basic sciences. Students are taught subjects such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and microbiology. These foundational sciences provide dentists with a deep understanding of the human body and its functions, enabling them to diagnose and treat oral health issues effectively.

Dentists also learn about oral histology and pathology, which focus on the study of oral tissues and diseases.

Clinical Dentistry

In addition to the basic sciences, dental school emphasizes clinical dentistry. Students learn how to perform dental procedures, such as fillings, extractions, root canals, and crown placements. They also gain hands-on experience in restorative dentistry, orthodontics, and prosthodontics.

Dental students learn different techniques and methods to address various dental problems, ensuring they can provide comprehensive care to their patients. This practical training prepares dentists to handle a wide range of dental issues.

Patient Care

Dental school also places a strong emphasis on patient care. Dentists are trained not only to diagnose and treat oral health problems but also to provide compassionate care to their patients. They learn effective communication skills to establish trust and rapport with patients.

Dental students also learn about ethical considerations, patient management techniques, and the importance of maintaining patient confidentiality. This comprehensive training ensures that dentists can not only provide excellent dental care but also create a positive and comfortable environment for their patients.

The Typical Daily Routine of a Dental Student

Being a dental student involves a rigorous and demanding schedule that prepares them for their future career as dentists. Let’s take a closer look at the typical daily routine of a dental student.

Classroom Lectures

The foundation of dental education lies in classroom lectures. Dental students spend a significant portion of their day attending lectures conducted by experienced professors. These lectures cover a wide range of topics, including dental anatomy, oral pathology, dental materials, and more.

The students are required to take detailed notes, ask questions, and actively participate in discussions to enhance their understanding of the subject matter.

During these lectures, students also learn about the latest advancements in dental technology and techniques. This knowledge is crucial for them to stay up-to-date with the ever-evolving field of dentistry.

Skills Labs

Aside from classroom lectures, dental students also spend time in skills labs. These labs provide a hands-on learning experience where students practice various dental procedures under the guidance of their professors.

They learn how to handle dental instruments, perform dental radiography, practice dental anesthesia techniques, and much more.

Skills labs are designed to help students develop the necessary manual dexterity and precision required for dental procedures. Through repeated practice and feedback from their instructors, students refine their skills and gain confidence in their abilities.

Clinical Work

One of the most important aspects of a dental student’s daily routine is clinical work. As they progress in their education, students start treating patients under the supervision of licensed dentists.

This real-world experience allows them to apply the knowledge and skills they have acquired in a clinical setting.

Dental students perform a variety of dental procedures, such as fillings, extractions, crowns, and root canals, while being closely supervised by their instructors. This hands-on experience is invaluable as it prepares them for the challenges they will face in their future dental practice.

It is important to note that while dental students do not attend medical school, their dental education is equally rigorous and demanding. They undergo years of rigorous training to become proficient in their field and provide quality dental care to their patients.

For more information on dental education, you can visit the American Dental Association’s website at


While dentists are doctors, they take a different educational path than physicians and surgeons. Dentists must complete at least 2 years of undergraduate prerequisites, then 4 years of dental school where they earn a DDS or DMD degree.

Their training focuses specifically on oral health and the diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the teeth, gums and jaws. With this specialized knowledge, dentists are able to provide comprehensive dental care and improve patients’ oral and overall health.

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