Careers
Work & Employability

How to become a dentist

5 min
August 25, 2021
If you're intrigued by the dental industry but aren't 100% sure about how to actually become a dentist then this article is for you. It covers what skills you need, how to qualify and even alternative routes into the profession. Dentistry is competitive and hard work so understanding the pathways into it as a career is essential.

Dentistry can be a hugely rewarding profession. As part of a dental team, you’ll help to keep people smiling with preventative dental care and effective treatments. 

It’s a very competitive industry to work in but your dental skills can open up a world of opportunities. For example, as a dentist, you could work in the UK in a high street practice, abroad as part of the Royal Navy, own your own practice or pursue a career in education. 

To become a dentist, you’ll need to complete a dentistry degree which usually takes five years. If you’re still at school or university then it’s worth taking part in dentistry work experience. This will give you the opportunity to join live workshops with dentists where you’ll be able to ask them questions. You’ll complete activities and work assignments to develop your dentistry skills and understanding. This will all be material that you can add to your CV or personal statement to show your commitment to a career in dentistry. 

Is it hard to become a dentist?

It’s a highly-skilled, science-based profession that requires strong people skills. You’ll need to have excellent manual dexterity - which is the ability to coordinate your hands and perform a task precisely. 

In addition, you’ll need great communication skills, especially when helping patients experiencing pain and anxiety.

Does that sound like you?

The traditional route into dentistry is to study a related degree at university. 

You'll need to complete a 5-year degree in dentistry approved by the General Dental Council, followed by 1 to 2 years of postgraduate dental training to become a dentist. 

You also need to be aware that when you apply for a dentistry course, you could be asked to take the University Clinical Aptitude Test or BioMedical Admissions Test. They test the skills you'll need on the course, like critical thinking, problem-solving, data analysis, communication and scientific knowledge. 

You may be able to apply for a 4-year dental degree course if you've already got at least an upper second class degree in biology, chemistry or a biomedical subject.

Dentistry is highly competitive, and places are limited annually, so you need to make sure that you stand out when you apply. A strong personal statement and references help. Additionally, programmes such as our Dentistry Work Experience can really help you stand out by showing the research and exploration you’ve done on your path to becoming a dentist. 

How much do dentists earn? 

The average dentist's salary is £63,665 within the UK.

Profits of dental practices vary greatly, but in general, you can earn around £50,000 to £110,000 as a fully qualified dentist. 

Private Dentists can earn more than £140,000. 

If you enter dental core training, instead of working in general practice, you should earn a salary of £37,935 to £48,075.

If you want to study dentistry, then it’s crucial you pick the right A-levels. Most courses will ask for chemistry or biology, or both, but a few will also expect maths or physics at A-level.

Chemistry, biology, and either maths or physics (or both) will keep all dentistry courses open to you.

If you don’t take maths or physics but do take chemistry and biology, most courses will accept you.

If you only take one from chemistry or biology, fewer dentistry courses will accept you.

The standards are really high, too. You will be expected to achieve 3 A-levels, usually at grades AAA to ABB, so you’ll have to study really hard if you want to get into Dentistry.

How to become a Dentist if you don’t meet the academic requirements for the BDS 5 year Degree 

If you do not have the necessary A-Level grades to get into Dentistry, you will still have the opportunity to become a dentist. An alternative way to get into Dental School is through a “Gateway to Dentistry” or “Pre-Dental” Year.

In effect, this turns your dental course into a 6-year degree, rather than the usual 5 years. You will study the biology and chemistry required to establish the foundations for Dentistry. This is an excellent route to get into Dental School if you have the potential to become a Dentist and we highly recommend you check out which Dental Schools are offering this rare opportunity.

Once qualified, there are many things you can do. As a dentist in general practice you could go on to become a partner in the practice or set up your own practice. If you're working in the hospital dental service, you'll be able to follow the same career structure and training pathway as a hospital doctor. You could also specialise, for example in implant or paediatric dentistry.

As a consultant, you'll often find work opportunities in the private sector. With experience, you could lead a team or manage a unit or department.

You could also progress to teaching and training students, trainee dentists, and other healthcare professionals.

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