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Getting Started

Have you decided to pursue a career in dentistry? These resources will answer many of the questions you may have about pursuing a career in dentistry and the process of applying to dental school.

One of the best places to begin learning about the process for becoming a dentist is the ADEA website.

The Decision to Pursue a Career in Dentistry

Dentistry is ranked #10 in the 100 Best Jobs for 2023 by U.S. News and World Report and is ranked #4 in Best Healthcare Jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment of dentists is projected to grow 7 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations. The demand for dental services will increase as the population ages and as research continues to link oral health to overall health.

Dentistry is a vital healthcare profession that specializes in oral health. Dentists prevent, diagnose and treat oral disease. In addition to general check-ups, dentists monitor the growth and development of the oral cavity and adjacent structures. As highly trained professionals, dentists prevent tooth decay, gum or gum related disease, and preform procedures such as filling a tooth, tooth extraction, and cleaning and polishing teeth.

Dentistry provides its practitioners the prospects of an income greatly above the national average. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median annual wage for dentists at $164,010 in May 2020. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $79,670, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000. In May 2020, the median annual wage for all workers was $41,950. 

The level of education, academic standards and clinical training required to earn a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree, is on par with those of medical schools. After a four-year program leading to a DMD or DDS, dentists may specialize within the field of dentistry, begin private practice, or prepare for careers in public health, academic dentistry, or research.

There is only one dental school in Georgia:


In the United States, accredited dental schools award dentists either a DDS or DMD degree at the end of their training. The Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree and the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree are essentially the same degree. The difference is that each institution decides the degree it will award. Students pursuing either degree receive the same education and have the same curriculum requirements designated by the American Dental Association. State licensing boards accept either degree as equivalent and anyone with a DMD or DDS is qualified to practice general dentistry.


You MUST become a general dentist before you can become a specialist.

Currently, there are twelve specialties recognized by the National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards. All of these specialities require additional training after receiving the DMD or DDS. These twelve specialties include: Dental Anesthesiology, Dental Public Health, EndodonticsOral and Maxillofacial PathologyOral and Maxillofacial RadiologyOral and Maxillofacial SurgeryOral Medicine, Orofacial Pain, Orthodontics and Dentofacial OrthopedicsPediatric DentistryPeriodontics, and Prosthodontics. Only students graduating near the top of their dental school class will normally be accepted for residency training in these specialties. A student admitted to dental school cannot be assured that he/she will be able to progress to a specialty upon completion of the DMD or DDS degree.

Medicine vs Dentistry

Medicine and dentistry have a number of characteristics in common and a number of differences. Many pre-professional students would be equally acceptable in medical or dental school and equally successful in practice in either profession. The requirements for admission to dental school are about the same a medical school. When deciding between pre-med and pre-dent certain differences should be noted. A dentist is typically not involved in the treatment of patients in life or death situations, except for oral surgeons who often treat accident victims who sustain injuries to the head and mouth, which may be fatal. Most dentists are routinely concerned with preventative treatments and the maintenance of good oral health. This usually involves much less stressful situations than the treatment of trauma cases. A physician usually treats a person who is sick or injured and by prescribing certain drugs or treatments. In preventative or restorative treatments such as those typically done by a dentist, a patient in good health is subjected to treatments that are sometimes painful, such as drilling or extracting a tooth.  Another difference between dentistry and many kinds of medical practice is that dentistry does not usually make as many demands on the free time of its practitioners as is commonly found in medicine. In such medical specialties as pediatrics, obstetrics and many areas of surgery, physicians are typically on call a regular basis nights and weekends.

Building your credentials

To prepare for a career in dentistry you will need to build credentials in scholarship, leadership, humanitarian/community service, and shadowing (largely with a general dentist) in the various settings of the profession. Many students do not get into dental school the first time that they apply. The traits that predict success in the profession include, high academic aptitude, hard work, the ability to work well with others, good hand-eye coordination, and good judgment.

There is no “best” major for pre-dental students nor are there majors that will make students “stand out.”  You are encouraged to pursue majors in which you are most interested.

What do dental schools look for when reviewing applicants?

Dental schools consider the following credentials when evaluating applicants for admission:

  • Academic record (both overall and science GPA)
  • DAT scores
  • Letters of Evaluation (including faculty and a general dentist letter)
  • Exposure to dentist-patient interaction ("shadowing")
  • Volunteering, as well as charitable/altruistic endeavors
  • Research experience (only if you are interested)
  • Leadership abilities
  • Interpersonal communication skills
  • Evidence of manual dexterity ("are you good with your hands?")

Check out ADEA GoDental to learn more about all the factors dental schools consider when making a decision on applicant acceptance and read about their Holistic approach to evaluating applications.

Note: Dental schools may also require background checks of applicants before matriculation.