Becoming a Dentist - High School to DDS

As a pediatric dentist who is passionate about helping children achieve good oral health, I often get asked about the requirements to become a dentist with just a high school diploma. While it's true that a high school diploma is the minimum educational requirement to pursue a career in dentistry, there are several steps and additional education that you will need to complete in order to become a licensed dentist. Our essential guide to dental school provides a comprehensive overview of what to expect and how to prepare.

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree

After graduating from high school, the first step towards becoming a dentist is to complete a bachelor's degree. While there is no specific major required for dental school, it is important to take courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and other sciences to fulfill the prerequisites for dental school. It is also important to maintain a high GPA, as dental schools typically have competitive admission requirements.

Step 2: Take the Dental Admission Test (DAT)

Once you have completed your bachelor's degree, you will need to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). The DAT is a standardized exam that assesses your academic and scientific knowledge, as well as your perceptual ability and reading comprehension skills. Your DAT scores, along with your GPA and other application materials, will be considered by dental schools during the admissions process.

Step 3: Complete a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) Program

It's important to understand the difference between a DDS and a DMD degree as you plan your educational path in dentistry.

After successfully completing the DAT and being accepted into a dental school, you will need to complete a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) program. These programs typically take four years to complete and consist of a combination of classroom instruction, laboratory work, and clinical experience. During dental school, you will learn about various aspects of dentistry, including oral anatomy, dental procedures, and patient care.

Step 4: Pass the National Board Dental Examinations

Preparing for and succeeding in your licensure journey is crucial. Our article on navigating dental board exams provides valuable tips and strategies.

In order to become a licensed dentist, you will need to pass the National Board Dental Examinations. These exams assess your knowledge and skills in various areas of dentistry, including biomedical sciences, dental anatomy, and clinical practice. Passing these exams demonstrates your competency and readiness to practice dentistry.

Step 5: Obtain State Licensure

After completing dental school and passing the National Board Dental Examinations, you will need to obtain a state license in order to practice dentistry. The specific requirements for licensure vary by state, but typically include passing a state board examination and fulfilling any additional requirements set by the state dental board.


While a high school diploma is the minimum educational requirement to pursue a career in dentistry, becoming a licensed dentist requires several additional steps and years of education. Completing a bachelor's degree, taking the Dental Admission Test, completing a DDS or DMD program, passing the National Board Dental Examinations, and obtaining state licensure are all necessary steps on the path to becoming a dentist. It is important to research and understand the specific requirements of the dental schools you are interested in, as well as the licensure requirements in the state where you plan to practice. For more insights into the dental profession, check out our article on the roles and responsibilities of a dentist.

Dr. Emily Nguyen
Pediatric dentistry, baking, board games

Dr. Emily Nguyen is a pediatric dentist who loves working with children. She believes that a positive dental experience can set a child up for a lifetime of good oral health. In her free time, she enjoys baking and playing board games with her family.