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How to Become a Dentist

Songs have been sung about them, marriages have happened because of them…a winning smile is one of the first things someone will notice about you, and behind every pearly white tooth there is a dentist keeping them that way. But aside from keeping the world smiling, dentistry is an extremely attractive job. With most dentists owning their own practices, the job affords security and flexibility, as well as being more lucrative than most other medical fields, with people willing to pay thousands for a perfect set of teeth.


Before you start dreaming of running your own premium cosmetic procedures clinic and start reeling in the veneer money, there is a lot of hard work and years of study required, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level. In this guide, we will take you through these years of work, showing you what to study when and how important studying after dental school can be for the future of your dentistry career. On top of this, we will briefly discuss the work experience required, as well as offering a case study from a dentist-in-waiting currently studying at postgraduate level so you can get the information straight from the dentist’s mouth!

What undergraduate qualifications are needed?

To qualify as a dentist, student must study for an approved dentistry degree in one of the UK’s 14 accredited dental schools, graduating with either a BDS (Bachelor of Dental Surgery), BDent (Bachelor of Dentistry), BDSc (Bachelor of Dental Science) or BChD (the rather fancier sounding Baccalaureus Chirurgiae Dental). Broadly speaking, there is little difference between the four, with different universities simply preferring different titles, but for the small differences there are between them it is worth contacting the university you wish to apply to. Whichever you choose, however, expect a five year course, with a pre-dental foundation year if you are coming to dentistry without straight 'As'.

What postgraduate qualification are needed?

How to become a dentist After those years of undergraduate dental work, you hopefully have some idea of what you would like to specialise in, because what you choose will change the postgraduate education you have to undertake. Whatever speciality you choose, however, you will first have to do at least one year of dental foundation training within primary care for the NHS, with certain amounts of vocational training also to be completed. It can also be completed over two years if you want to combine primary and secondary work. Whichever you choose, it has to be completed within three years of graduation.

After this, anyone wishing to work in hospital dentistry has to undertake further specialist training within a hospital over a number of years. This applies to those with an interest in any of the following: orthodontics, oral medicine, restorative dentistry, paediatric dentistry and oral pathology. As well as these fields, anyone wanting to work within oral or maxillofacial surgery needs to also return to university to study medicine alongside their dental training.

For those looking to go into specialist private practice, for example orthodontics, further university study is advisable, leading up to a Doctorate in Dental Surgery in your chosen speciality. These are three-year degrees taken after your foundation training year, and these are usually split between taught modules, closely supervised treatment of patients and a research project, teaching you everything you might need to know in your speciality. There are fifteen UK dental schools that offer DDS qualifications, with two of them graduate-only. Entry to each at postgraduate level is fiercely competitive, so work experience and other postgraduate qualifications at masters level are heavily recommended.

For those of you who have taken other degrees, whatever they are, and are now looking to convert to a degree in dentistry as a postgraduate, many dental schools offer fast-track degrees in dentistry, lasting four rather than the traditional five years. Although these are open to all graduates, as with regular dentistry they are competitive, with science degrees given preference. However, other elements are taken into consideration, so anyone who can show a commitment to dentistry should definitely consider applying to one of these places.

What work experience should I do?

As we have already seen, dentistry places both at undergraduate and postgraduate level are fiercely fought over, so anything you can do to set yourself above your competitors is advisable. Of these, gaining work experience seems like the best way to demonstrate a supreme commitment to the field. Most dental schools, and certainly the best ones, will ask for a minimum of two weeks work experience in general dental practice, with applications from those who have also worked in other areas like hospital dentistry or private dentistry naturally considered above those who have done only a fortnight.

On top of these, work experience is mandatory part of most dentistry degrees, and postgraduate applications will not be accepted from those who have not done their year in general medical practice. And for those doing fast track or conversion courses after other degrees, work experience becomes an essential way of showing an interest in a field that will drive you through the faster pace of the four year program, especially when so many people are applying to those programs.

Student case study

Roma, currently studying for her DDS in orthodontics at the University of Bristol, found herself going into postgraduate study after three years working in general practice. “Although I did enjoy general dentistry” she says, “I did find having to be a ‘jack of all trades’ really exhausting, and I found myself really wanting to specialise further, until I was a real expert in a certain field. Two years in to a three-year program, she eventually wants to set up her own practice in London, offering adult orthodontics, a hugely growing business that Roma cannot wait to tap into.


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