Dental Medicine

Please note: Pomona College does not offer a Dentistry program. This information is merely for the purpose of providing an overview of dental medicine and dental school requirements to our undergraduate students.

Dental Medicine is the branch of healthcare devoted to oral health. Dentists diagnose and treat conditions relating to teeth, gums, and other tissues in and around the mouth. They also play a key role in the early detection of oral cancer and other systemic conditions that manifest themselves in the mouth. Oral healthcare professionals practice prevention, education, research, restoration, surgery, and more. The degree awarded from dental school is a Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (D.M.D.).

Most dentists are general practitioners (DDS/DMD), but many choose to pursue further training to become a specialist. The ADA recognizes 12 different dental specialties: Dental Anesthesiology, Dental Public Health, Endodontics, Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Oral Medicine, Orofacial Pain, Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, Pediatric Dentistry, Periodontics and Prosthodontics

Training to become a Dentist

Dental school is four years (although there are a few accelerated programs that last 3 years), with typically one year of residency in general dentistry afterward. Recognized ADA specialties such as Oral and Maxillofacial surgery and Orthodontics require additional post-graduate training which can last two to six years.

In 2020, the average annual tuition of the first year of dental school ranged from $53,000 to $70,000 for students attending private or out-of-state dental schools. Public schools are usually less for in-state tuition, costing about $40,000 per year.  More well-known private schools might cost as much as $72,300 annually. In 2019, there were 11,148 applicants, of which 6231 (approximately 55%) matriculated into dental school.

The expected salary for a general dentist is $140,000-$190,000, and $130,000-$260,000 for specialists.

When researching your dental school list, you may wish to consider how many people go on to specialties from that school.

Undergraduate Preparation

Dentistry requires a strong academic background as well as excellent manual dexterity, fine motor coordination, and strong spatial awareness. In addition to STEM pre-requisites (see below), art courses or hobbies using manual skills are recommended.

Academic Preparation

The ADEA provides a helpful four-year admissions timeline for undergraduates. Check out our pre-dental planning guide.

Personal Preparation

Shadowing: Shadowing a dentist is recommended or required by most dental schools, with durations ranging from 50-200 hours. A few programs require shadowing in multiple offices.

Dentistry requires excellent fine motor skills. It is important to continue developing manual dexterity throughout college (e.g., knitting, art, sculpture, sewing).

Application Process

Admissions Testing

The Dental Admissions Test (DAT) is required for admission to US Dental schools. The test is multiple choice, and covers biology (expanding in January 2022), chemistry (general and organic), math problems/quantitative reasoning, perceptual ability, and reading comprehension. The total score is 30. In 2020, the average GPA for matriculants was 3.44 (3.2 science). The average DAT scores for matriculants in 2020 was 19.7 Academic (reading/writing), 19.7 Perceptual Ability, and 19.3 for the Science section.

The fee for the DAT is $510 (2022). Applicants experiencing financial hardship can apply for a partial fee waiver that covers 50% of the DAT fee. A full practice test (3hrs 5mins) can be purchased at for $100. Students have recommended DAT Bootcamp and DAT Destroyer for preparation.


Dental school applications are submitted through a centralized service called the ADA AADSAS (Associated American Dental Schools Application Service). The application cycle generally opens in late May to early June, and there is an advantage to submitting early. There is a fee to use the service (in 2021, $259 for first school and $112 for each additional school), and individual schools may require a supplemental application fee ranging from $20-200. There is a Fee Assistance Program to help lower the application cost for qualified applicants. The ADEA provides an “Applicant Quick Guide” as well as application instructions on their website.

The Prehealth Advising Office maintains a copy of the current ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools as well as online access to the ADEA Dental School Explorer, for use during advising appointments.

When you apply, please check “yes” for the Advisor Release at the beginning of the AADSAS application.

Letters of recommendation: Applicants are permitted up to 4 letters (in addition to the Health Sciences Committee letter, if they choose to request one). Some dental schools REQUIRE a letter of recommendation from a dentist that you shadowed, so pay attention to this! Besides the letter from a dentist, you should plan to get letters from 2 science faculty and an advisor.

The committee letter plus other letters will be sent to all dental schools via the AADSAS; you cannot choose which letters are sent to which school.

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