Dentists diagnose, treat, and help prevent diseases, injuries, and malformations of the teeth and mouth. They also perform cosmetic dental procedures, surgical procedures, tissue grants and extractions, and they educate patients on maintaining oral health. The procedures dentists perform require manual dexterity, as well as the ability to visually perceive depth, color, and shape.

The prospects for dental students are currently very good.  The field of dentistry is expected to have larger than average growth with most job openings resulting from a large number of retiring practitioners.  As for the nature of the work, most dentists work in private practice settings and most - about 80% - are general practitioners.  The remaining 20% practice in one of nine dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association.  

General Information

The traditional dental school program is four years in length. Dental students typically spend the first two years studying the biological sciences to learn about the structure and function of the human body and its diseases. This includes dentally oriented biological sciences such as oral anatomy, oral pathology, and oral histology. They learn the basic principles of oral diagnosis and treatment and begin mastery of dental treatment procedures through practice on models of the mouth and teeth. In many programs, students also begin interacting with patients and providing basic oral health care.

In the final two years of dental school, students focus on clinical study. They receive clinical training in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of oral diseases and disorders. Training is broad in scope and allows students to apply basic principles and techniques in all areas from diagnosis and treatment planning to restorative dentistry and oral surgery. Students learn to work with a diverse range of clientele and are also provided instruction in practice management and working effectively with allied dental personal to provide dental care.

During the final two years, students may rotate through various clinics of the dental school and have the opportunity to acquire additional clinical experience in hospitals and other off-campus community settings. These experiences are meant to give students an appreciation for the team approach to dentistry.

Application Process

The Associated American Dental Schools Application Service, or AADSAS, is a centralized application service provided by the American Dental Education Association (ADEA). Applicants submit a single application to AADSAS, which then sends a standard applicant packet to each of the dental schools to which you are applying. Most U.S. dental schools participate in AADSAS; only four dental schools do not participate and must be applied to directly. AADSAS applications become available in mid-May for the next entering class. As with most professional health programs, you should apply as early as you can. AADSAS application processing takes four to eight weeks, and dental schools begin receiving applications in June. Check the websites of the dental programs to which you will be applying for current deadlines.

Dental schools begin sending offers of acceptance on December 1. Depending on when you are accepted, you will have a specific number of days to accept an offer of admission. Most dental schools require a non-refundable tuition deposit to hold a position in a class. Most dental schools develop a wait list of applicants who will be considered for admission if a previously confirmed applicant withdraws.

Dental schools often require a letter of evaluation from a pre-health advisory committee, rather than several individual letters. Each applicant who seeks a committee letter of evaluation will be interviewed by several members of the Stonehill Pre-Health Professions Advisory Committee, who will then condense the comments of science faculty, non-science faculty, and employers, which you will have previously gathered, into a single letter of evaluation to be submitted to dental schools.

If a dental school is seriously considering you for admission, they will most likely request a personal interview.

Entrance Exam

The Dental Admission Test, or DAT, is required for admission by all U.S. dental schools. The test measures general academic ability, comprehension of scientific information, and perceptual ability. The ADA website suggests that you apply to take the test at least 60 to 90 days before the desired test date to increase the likelihood of receiving your first choice. Scores are reported immediately after completing the DAT, and dental schools receive the official scores three weeks after the testing date. Candidates may take the DAT no more than three times.

The DAT is a multiple choice examination that is approximately four and a half hours long and consists of the following four examinations:

  • Survey of the natural sciences. This is the longest test and includes questions on biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry.
  • Perceptual ability. Questions are about two- and three-dimensional spatial problem solving. Find examples of these kinds of questions on the Kaplan Practice DAT website. 
  • Reading comprehension. Excerpts are usually taken from basic science subjects with a dental emphasis.
  • Quantitative reasoning. These are questions that test mathematical reasoning. They do not involve calculus or trigonometry.

The material tested in the sciences is at the introductory level and include topics that are normally covered in general chemistry, organic chemistry, and biology. It is typically unnecessary to study from advanced textbooks. Keep in mind, though, that the test questions involve application of general principles, rather than regurgitation of facts. More information about the subject content and format of the DAT is located on the ADA website and should be carefully reviewed before your test date.

Subjects Covered Type of Exam Exam Length When Given Where Taken Contact Info to Register
Natural Sciences Perceptual Ability Reading Comprehension Quantitative Reasoning Computer Multiple Choice 4 hr 30 min Varies by appointment Prometric Test Centers throughout the US Apply to take the DAT after obtaining a DENTPIN; email instruction will follow application approval
Test Prep Cost of Exam Obtaining Scores Reporting Scores Score Record Notes & Prometric Test Drive at & $415.00 Financial assistance available for 50% discount Unofficial report given upon completion; official scores available 3-4 weeks later Registration fee includes reports to all schools listed on your DAT application; $34.00 per additional report later The four most recent attempts are reported as well as the total number of attempts Obtain a DENTPIN at 

Suggested Coursework

The following is a list of undergraduate courses that typically satisfy the prerequisites for dental programs:

  • Chemistry with lab (1 year)
  • Organic Chemistry with lab (1 year)
  • Biology with lab (1 year)
  • Physics with lab (1 year)
  • English (1 year)
  • Some dental programs may also require Microbiology and Biochemistry.


American Dental Association (ADA)

211 East Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611-2678
(312) 440-2500

American Dental Education Association (ADEA)

ADEA AADSAS Application

American Student Dental Association Shadowing Guide

DAT Examinee Guide