Dentists diagnose, prevent and treat problems of the teeth and tissues of the mouth. They remove decay, fill cavities, examine x-rays, place protective plastic sealants on children's teeth, straighten teeth, and repair fractured teeth. They also perform corrective surgery of the gums and supporting bones to treat gum disease. Dentists extract teeth and make molds and measurements for dentures to replace missing teeth. Dentists provide instruction in diet, brushing, flossing, the use of fluorides, and other aspects of dental care, as well. They also administer anesthetics and write prescriptions for antibiotics and other medications.

Dentists are often the first health care professionals to recognize and identify a wide variety of diseases, ranging from hypertension to cancer. Dentists diagnose and treat problems affecting the teeth, gingival tissue, tongue, lips and jaws. To accomplish this, they utilize new technology such as computers and magnetic resonance imaging. Dentists are artists as well as scientists. To brighten one tooth or realign an entire jaw, dentists must have an artist's esthetic sense to help their patients look their best.

Most dentists are general practitioners, handling a wide variety of dental needs. Other dentists practice in one of nine specialty areas. Orthodontists, the largest group of specialists, straighten teeth. The next largest group, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, operate on the mouth and jaws. The remainder specialize in pediatric dentistry, periodontics, prosthodontics, endodontics, dental public health, oral pathology, or oral and maxillofacial radiologists. Dentists will increasingly provide care and instruction aimed at preventing the loss of teeth, rather than simply providing treatments such as fillings. Improvements in dental technology also will allow dentists to offer more effective and less painful treatment to their patients.

Job Market & Salary

Employment of dentists is expected to grow by 21 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. Many members of the baby-boom generation will need complicated dental work. In addition, because each generation is more likely to keep their teeth than past generations, more dental care will be needed in the years to come. Dentists will continue to see an increase in public demand for their services as studies continue to link oral health to overall health. Employment of dentists is not expected to keep pace with the increased demand for dental services. There are still areas of the country where patients have little access to dental care. Whether patients seek care is largely dependent on their insurance coverage. People with new or expanded dental insurance coverage will be more likely to visit a dentist than in the past. Cosmetic dental services, such as teeth-whitening treatments, will become increasingly popular. This trend is expected to continue as new technologies allow for less invasive, faster procedures. Dentists are likely to hire more hygienists and dental assistants to handle routine services. Productivity increases from new technology should allow dentists to reduce the time needed to see each patient. These factors allow the dentist to see more patients when their practices expand. Dentists will continue to provide care and instruction aimed at promoting good oral hygiene, rather than just providing treatments such as fillings.

The median annual wage of dentists was $146,920 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $71,210, and the top 10 percent earned $166,400 or more. Earnings vary according to number of years in practice, location, hours worked, and specialty. The median annual wages of dentist occupations in May 2010 were the following: equal to or greater than $166,400 for oral and maxillofacial surgeons, equal to or greater than $166,400 for orthodontists, $161,020 for all other specialists, $141,040 for general dentists, and $118,400 for prosthodontists.


Most dental students need at least a bachelor's degree before entering dental school; requirements vary by school. All dental schools require applicants to have completed certain required science courses, such as biology and chemistry. The majority of students being accepted to dental school have a Bachelor’s degree (even if not required) but no specific major is required to enter most dental programs.

College undergraduates who plan on applying to dental school must usually take the Dental Acceptance Test (DAT) during their junior year. Admission to dental school can be competitive. Dental schools use these tests, along with other factors such as grade point average and recommendations, to admit students into their programs.

Dental schools require students to take classes such as local anesthesia, anatomy, periodontology (the study of oral disease and health), and radiology. All dental schools include practice where students work with patients in a clinical setting under the supervision of a licensed dentist.

During the last two years, students treat patients, usually in dental clinics, under the supervision of licensed dentists. Most dental schools award the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.). The rest award an equivalent degree, Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.). All nine dental specialties require dentists to complete additional training before practicing that specialty. They must usually take a 1- or 2-year residency in a program related to their specialty.

Program & Requirements


General Chemistry

CHEM 220 and CHEM 230

General Biology

BIOL 202 and BIOL 204

Organic Chemistry

CHEM 300 and CHEM 400


PHY 202/204 or PHY 232/242


ENGW 201 (some schools require 2 semesters)

Required by some schools


BIOL 308


BIOL 330


BIOL 224 (required by OHSU)


BIOL 240 (required by OHSU)


CHEM 380


PSY 150


PSY 252


MATH 226

Art Studio Classes

Sculpture or 3-D Drawing

Applicants must take the Dental Admission Test (DAT) a year before entering dental school.

More Information

Pacific University School of Dental Health Science
American Dental Education Association
American Dental Association

Program Contacts

Lisa Rowley
Program Director, School of Dental Health Science

Leah Pelto
Assistant Director of Graduate and Professional Admissions