Dental School Eligibility – What Are the Requirements?

Dental School Eligibility – What Are the Requirements?
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Dental School Eligibility – What Are the Requirements?Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. What Is Dental School
  2. Prerequisites
  3. Dental Admissions Test (DAT)
  4. Applying to School
  5. Is College Necessary Before Applying
  6. References

To become a licensed dentist, you first must graduate from an accredited dental school. Gaining entry into these selective institutions requires a combination of prerequisite science courses and the ability to successfully pass the Dental Admissions Test (DAT).

Depending on the school you choose to apply to, there may be other requirements as well.\ You do not have to graduate from college before applying to dental school. However, you must have completed all required courses by the time of your application.

You must also complete the DAT within one year before applying. If you want to train as a dental specialist, you will need obtain your general dentistry degree first.

What Is Dental School?

Dental school is the educational training required to become a licensed dentist. This training typically takes four years and requires at least three years of prior undergraduate study.

Students learn from a combination of typical academic study (reading, attending lectures and classes, writing papers, taking quizzes and tests, etc.) and clinical training.

Academic requirements are usually completed in the first two years of dental school, while clinical training is reserved for the final two years.

U.S. dental school graduates are awarded either a DDS or a DMD degree. These titles are different ways of referring to the same degree. Each dental school awards one or the other, but the curriculum requirements are identical for each.

Both DDS and DMD holders are considered licensed dentists and are authorized to perform general dentistry in any setting, including in their own private practice.

After starting their profession, dentists must also to participate in continuing education to keep their license active. They also have the option of undergoing additional schooling to become a dental specialist, such as a periodontist or an orthodontist.


Most dental schools require applicants to have taken at least two semesters (eight hours) of courses in the following disciplines prior to applying:

  • Biology
  • General chemistry
  • Organic chemistry
  • Physics
  • English

To be considered valid prerequisites, all science courses must have an associated lab component. You do not have to major in science to be considered for dental school as long as you complete the prerequisite course, but most candidates do major in one of the sciences.

Many colleges also require dental school candidates to pass classes in other specific subjects in addition to the ones listed above. Some of the most common additional prerequisites include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Microbiology

Check the specific requirements of the dental schools you are interested in before you apply.

Dental Admissions Test (DAT)

The Dental Admissions Test is a standardized test administered by the American Dental Association (ADA). The ADA’s goal is to ensure that all dental school applicants share a common knowledge base and have demonstrated that they’re capable of critical thinking and advanced reasoning. Specifically, the DAT tests:

  • Knowledge of the natural sciences
  • Perceptual ability
  • Reading comprehension
  • Quantitative reasoning

The DAT can be taken under supervision at testing centers in major cities all over the country. It is a half-day test.

If you do not pass the DAT on your first try, you can take the test again after at least 90 days have passed since your initial attempt. However, each candidate can only take the test three times in total without getting special permission from the ADA for extra attempts.

If you decide to take the test again, make sure you have taken the time to study and are truly ready to make a better second attempt.

It is best practice to give at least three months of preparation before taking the DAT, and it helps to create persistent study habits that are not too hard to follow.

Applying to School

To apply to dental school, you must:

Most dental schools also require applicants to go through an in-person (or Zoom) interview with the school’s admissions staff. In this exchange, you will be asked to speak about topics such as how you handle challenges, how you get along with other people, and why you want to go to dental school.

Tutors and consultants who help candidates prepare for dental school admission often prepare and coach their clients on how to win these interviews. The mentoring techniques and suggestions are similar to those for people who want to do well in any sort of job or candidate interview.

Your interview results, your grade point average (GPA), letters of recommendation that you solicited, your shadowing experiences, and other indicators of academic success (such as clear-thinking demonstrated by your writing ability) all can play a part in a dental school’s decision-making process.

Do everything you can to make yourself an attractive candidate to maximize your chances of being accepted.

Do You Have to Go to College Before Applying?

Because of the extensive educational prerequisites needed to apply, most prospective dental school students have earned at least a Bachelor’s degree. But some dental schools will admit candidates early if they meet those prerequisites but have not yet completed their degree.

If you are particularly eager to enter dental school, contact a few of the dental schools you would be most interested in attending and ask them about their early admission policies.


Preparing for Dental School. (2021). American Dental Education Association. Date fetched: September 1, 2021.

Applying for Dental School. (2021). American Dental Association. Date fetched: September 1, 2021.

The Dental Admissions Test (DAT). (2021). American Dental Education Association. Date fetched: September 1, 2021.

Difference Between DDS and DMD. (2021). MouthHealthy. Date fetched: September 1, 2021.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.