The American Dental Education Association (ADEA) defines dentistry as the field of health sciences devoted to maintaining the health of the teeth, gums, and other hard and soft tissues of the oral cavity and adjacent structures. Dentists provide a wide range of care, including prevention of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, correcting malocclusion (misalignment of teeth), and diagnosing oral disorders. Some dentists work in education and public health dentistry. There are ten clinical fields within dentistry: general dentistry, dental public health, endodontics (dental nerves and pulp), oral and maxillofacial pathology, oral and maxillofacial radiology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics, pediatric dentistry, periodontics (gums), and prosthodontics (tooth replacements). Most dentists (79%) are general practitioners and work in private practice. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of general practice dentists in 2020 was $164,010 and the demand for dentists is expected to increase 8% by 2030.
Dentists are required to graduate from an accredited dental school and pass a licensing exam. Most dental schools are four years in length and although general dentists are not required to complete an additional residency, many choose to, in order to expand their training. Specialization residencies can last anywhere from one to six years beyond dental school. Dental schools award the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or the Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). Both degrees are equivalent.
For more information
Occupational Outlook: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dentists.htm
Education & Training
The vast majority of students accepted to dental school earned a bachelor’s degree prior to admission, although there are some schools that will consider students without a bachelor’s degree. Applicants are required to take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT), which focuses on reading comprehension (dental and basic sciences), natural sciences (biology, inorganic/organic chemistry), perceptual ability (two-and three dimensional problem-solving), and quantitative reasoning. Applicants should also show manual dexterity through activities like playing a musical instrument, making ceramics or jewelry, knitting, etc.
Dental schools utilize a “whole” application review and consider biographical and academic information provided by the applicant including: DAT scores, GPA, experiences, letters of recommendation and interviews. According to the ADEA, in 2020, the national average GPA of U.S. enrolled students was 3.58 total GPA and 3.49 science (biology, chemistry, physics) GPA. The national Academic Average of enrollees on the DAT was 20.8, Perceptual mean was 20.5 and total science mean was 20.4.
Note: Admission prerequisites vary by institution. Some schools will not accept AP credit for prerequisites. Check requirements carefully!
See below for an example of admission course prerequisites that may be required at CA programs. Please research professional programs for the specific admission requirements. If you need guidance on how to search for schools, please see the Peer Advisors during drop-in hours.
Bio, Mcro, Bchm, and Msci majors should enroll in Mcro 224.
For programs requiring 1-2 years of Biology and Microbiology, contact schools to determine additional Biology coursework to enroll in.
Note: Engineering & Physical Science majors should enroll in Chem 124, 125, and 126
Note: Biochemistry & Chemistry majors should enroll in Chem 216, 217/221, 218/324
Biochemistry: Chem 314 (previously known as Chem 313) or Chem 369 (previously known as Chem 371)
- Check the school's pre-requisite language carefully, as some do not accept survey coursework!
English: 3 quarters; proficiency in oral and written communication
Physics: Phys 121, 122, 123 or Phys 141, 142, 143, and Phys 125
- Phys 125 is a 1-unit lab that corresponds to Phys 121 or 141 and is generally taken during your last year at Cal Poly. In order to get on the waitlist, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, major, health profession of interest, and Cal Poly email address. Permission numbers will be given out based on time of graduation.
Genetics: Bio 351 or Bio 303 or Bio 302
Histology: Bio 410
Embryology: Bio 405
Immunology: Bio 426
Cell Biology: Bio 452
Anatomy/Physiology: Bio 231, 232 (for all majors except Bio) or Bio 361, 406-409, & 426
Metabolism: Chem 372
Molecular Biology: Chem 373 and/or Bio/Chem 475
Business: Econ 201 (D2), Bus 207, 212
Calculus: Math 141, 142, 143 or 161, 162 (B1)
Ceramics, jewelry making, sculpture, drawing
Ethics: Phil 339 (C4)
*Psychology: UCLA and UCSF require one quarter (Psy 201 or 202)
*Please come in to see us if you have any questions.
Last updated: 09/08/2022.