Health Professions - Dental

About Dental School

Dentistry is concerned with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of problems associated with the oral hard and soft tissues and the surrounding structures. If you are interested in learning more about a possible career in dentistry, you are encouraged to review the information below, as well as the links in the dropdown menu.  Dental schools confer one of two degrees—either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.). The two degrees are entirely equivalent in terms of the program completed and the rights conferred for practice.

How Long is Dental School?

Dental school takes four years to complete.  The first two years usually consist of basic sciences coursework, beginning with normal structure and function of human systems focusing upon the oral and maxillo-facial abnormalities of structure and function.  The last two years consist of a series of required clinical rotations and electives.  During the fourth year, students may choose a dental specialty and apply to post doctoral education programs (residencies) through ADEA Pass Application and Matching Service.

Depending on the specialty chosen, residency takes an additional 2 to 7 years.

Dental school admissions are competitive. If you are interested in learning more about dental schools and their admissions requirements, consider purchasing Official Guide to Dental Schools, which the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) publishes each academic year (available through the ADEA website).

Helpful Information

Dental school admissions committees generally look for several qualities in an ideal dental school applicant. First, a strong academic record and DAT scores are desirable. Second, the applicant must be highly motivated, as evidenced by excellent grades and volunteer experience, and exhibit good judgment and perseverance. Experience in research is highly recommended. Finally, committees favor the applicant who exhibits a certain degree of manual dexterity. This can be demonstrated through various hobbies or extracurricular activities such as playing a musical instrument, needlepoint work, making pottery, etc. If you apply to dental school, it is important that your application stress such manual activities. If you do not possess experience in this area because you do not enjoy working with your hands, you probably should reconsider dentistry as a career.

Required Courses

The courses listed below are those that undergraduates are required to complete prior to entering dental school.

As you plan your course of study, please note these important considerations:

  • You are encouraged to make a list of the dental schools in which you are most interested and consult each school’s admissions requirements for more specific information about prerequisite coursework. In addition, consider purchasing the ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools (available through the ADEA website). 
  • All of your required courses must be taken for a letter grade, not on a Pass/No Pass (P/NP) basis.
  • Please note that some dental schools will not accept AP credit.

Required Courses

One year of general chemistry with lab

  • Chem 1A/1AL, Chem 1B/1BL, Chem 1C/1CL (or Chem 2 equivalent)

One year of organic chemistry with lab

  • Chem 109A, 109B, 109C, and 6AL, 6BL

One year of introductory biology with lab

One year of physics with lab

  • Physics 6A/6AL, 6B/6BL, 6C/6CL


  • MCDB 110 (recommended for non-Biochemistry majors) or MCDB 108A or Chem 142A


  • Writing 2, Writing 50 or English 10 (or Writing 109)
  • Some schools require a full year of English – please check the ADEA (American Dental Education Association) Official Guide to Dental Schools
  • Writing 109HP is a useful course for writing personal statements and should be taken closer to when you apply.

Mathematics (not required for most schools) and Statistics:  see "UCSB Mathematics and Statistics for Pre-health Students, Revised"

  • Calculus does act as a pre-requisite for some of the required science courses.
  • Please check with individual schools for specific Math requirements.

Possible additional coursework--Some schools may require the completion of additional coursework. It is important you check with each individual school about specific admission requirements. The following are some courses that may be required:

  • Microbiology--MCDB 131
  • General Psychology - Psych 1
  • Economics - Econ 1 or Econ 2
  • Foreign Language

Scheduling Pre-dental Required Courses, Years 1 & 2





1st Year

  • Chem 1A + 1AL

  • Math or Stats (See above)

  • GE or Elective

  • Chem 1B + 1BL

  • Math or Stats (See above)

  • GE or Elective

  • GE or Elective?

  • Chem 1C + 1CL

  • Math or Stats (See above)

  • GE or Elective

  • GE or Elective?

2nd Year

  • EEMB 3 + 3L*

  • Chem 109C

  • Chem 6BL (May be done later)

  • GE or Elective

*New Biology Labs:  Beginning in Fall 2019, the Biology Program will restructure its introductory labs, changing from three, 1 unit labs--MCDB 1AL, MCDB 1BL/EEMB 2L, and EEMB 3L--to two, 1.5 unit labs--MCDB 1LL and EEMB 2LL.  Most students will do MCDB 1LL in winter quarter and EEMB 2LL in spring quarter.  Although taken over two quarters rather than three, these will count as a full year of introductory biology labs.

Please consider the schedule above as a sample; it is only one of several paths for completing essential pre-health requirements. Students, in consultation with pre-health, general, and major advisors, should develop individual schedules that will allow them to explore their interests, achieve their goals, and complete other required and recommended courses.  Note that dental schools require a year of physics with lab (Physics 6A & 6AL, 6B & 6BL, 6C & 6CL), and although most students complete physics by the end of the 3rd year, just when to take physics depends on how well students are meeting the demands of their other courses. We strongly recommend you consult with a pre-health advisor or general Letters and Science advisor if you are considering enrolling in physics as a first year student.  For scheduling upper division biology courses after second year, students should meet with pre-health and major advisors to consider their options.

Required Tests

The Dental Admission Test (DAT) is required for entrance into most dental schools. You can apply to take the test at almost any time, but first you should complete the prerequisites.

The DAT is designed to measure general academic ability, comprehension of scientific information, and perceptual ability. The exam includes the following sections:

  • Natural Sciences (biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry)
  • Reading Comprehension (dental and basic sciences)
  • Quantitative Ability (math problems)
  • Perceptual Ability (two and three-dimensional problem solving designed to test motor and space-relations abilities)

The DAT usually is taken during the month of April, and dental school applications are sent out after June 1st.

Extracurricular Activities

Volunteering, shadowing a dentist, and performing undergraduate research are all ways to ensure a competitive dental school application. In general, dental shools are looking for three areas of relevant experience, so keep these areas in mind as you select your extracurricular activities:

  • Clinical experience
  • Community service
  • Research

For more information about internships and volunteer opportunities, please visit the Clinical Experience page.


The American Dental Education Association (ADEA) sponsors the Association of American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS), a centralized application services for individuals applying to dental schools. Most dental schools participate in the AADSAS. This service allows you to submit a single application and transcript set to AADSAS. The service will collect and collate data, compute grade point averages, and transmit standardized applications to the schools of your choice.

For dental schools that do not participate in AADSAS, you must obtain the application material directly from the individual schools. In addition, if you plan to apply to dental schools outside your state of residence, be sure to consult the admission requirement book for information pertaining to out-of-state students.

It is important to apply early as admissions are "rolling." In other words, the longer you wait to apply, the more your chances of admission will diminish.

Secondary Applications and Interviews

Once your primary application has been received, schools will send out secondary applications that may ask for additional essays, information. etc.

After your secondary applications are sent, some schools may contact you and invite you for a personal interview.  Be sure to prepare using mock interviews which should include mobile mini interview format.

When Should I Apply to Dental School?

The ADEA AADSAS application becomes available online at on the first of June for FALL admissions the following year. Dental schools receive applications from ADEA AADSAS starting in late June and continuing through each school’s application deadline. All applications submitted to ADEA AADSAS on or before a dental school’s application deadline—provided all supporting documentation (i.e. letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc.) are received from the applicant—are processed and sent to that school. Early submissions are preferred. Applications for dental schools in Texas must apply through the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS).

What are the Selection Procedures for Admission?

Potential dental students may be evaluated on the basis of their grade point average (GPA), performance on the Dental Admissions Test (DAT), extra-curricular and community activities, work or volunteering in a health care setting, shadowing dentists, professional potential and leadership, etc. Letters of recommendation are usually required from undergraduate health professions advisors and faculty members as well as dentists and other members of the health professions, community leaders, and other individuals who have employed you or supervised your volunteer experience.  Unlike colleges, which hold interviews early in the application process, dental schools arrange interviews near the end.  As they narrow their selection of candidates, most dental schools invite the most promising applicants to interview with faculty and other members of the admissions committee.  Lastly, admission criteria may vary slightly by institution; therefore, visit the website of the school or college of your choice to obtain specific information.