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Do Dentists Go To Medical School?


Making the decision to enter the healthcare field is something to celebrate! By doing so, you can make a positive impact on the people in your community and beyond. Luckily, you have many choices of careers, including becoming a dentist. 

If you are considering dentistry, you may be wondering if you have to go to medical school. The short answer? No, dentists do not attend medical school. But there’s more to it than that — I’ll break down everything you need to know below. 

Dental School vs. Medical School

While dentists, like physicians, are doctors, they aren’t medical doctors. This means they don’t pursue a medical degree (MD) in medical school, but a dental degree in dental school instead. 

Depending on the dental school, students receive one of two degrees: a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry, otherwise called a Doctor of Dental Medicine, (DMD). It is important to note that both DDS and DMD degrees are the results of the same education and are used interchangeably within the industry. 

Although medical school and dental school offer two different doctorates, the path to graduating with either is similar. Like medical students, dental students spend the first two years of their post-graduate education learning in the classroom and practicing on models. Often, each type of student will take classes that include anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and biochemistry. 

The differences between medical and dental schools become more obvious in the third and fourth years. Just like medical students, dental students will begin to practice on patients under the advisement of licensed medical professionals. Unlike medical students, who rotate between many different specialties which cover the whole body, dental students will complete rotations that focus entirely on oral health. 

Does dental school cost the same as medical school?

As for cost, medical school holds a clear advantage over dental school. While medical school students can expect to pay an average of $147,020 (in-state students) or $243,208 (out-of-state students), dental students should be prepared for a much steeper bill. On average, in 2019 dental students were expected to pay $251,233 (in-state) and $321,575 (out-of-state).

In addition to tuition, it is important to note that dental students are required to purchase much of their own equipment, which can cost thousands each year. 

How Long Does it Take to Become a Dentist? 

Becoming a dentist takes eight years. Here is a breakdown of the timeline that prospective dentists can expect: 

  • 4 years of undergraduate education
  • 4 years of dental school 

If you wish to practice more advanced dental specialties, like Pediatric Dentistry or Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, you will need further education. When additional training is sought out, dentists are given the option of a General Practice Residency (GPR) or Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) program. 

How Long Does it Take to Become a Doctor?

Like becoming a dentist, it typically takes eight years to become a medical doctor. That said, there is an extra step before you will be allowed to practice on your own, which dentists don’t need to complete: residency. With that, it can take up to thirteen years to become a fully licensed doctor. 

Here is what you can expect if you are leaning toward becoming a medical doctor:

  • 4 years of undergraduate education
  • 4 years of medical school education
  • 3 to 7 years of residency (depending on the desired specialty)

If a physician wishes to further their knowledge, they can participate in a fellowship or research program. However, they are not required.

Related: How Long Does it Take to Pay Off Medical School Debt?

Which Type of School is Harder to Get Into? 

Getting into medical school or dental school is absolutely a feat, no matter what type of school you go to. Being accepted to either program takes discipline, drive, and a lot of studying. What school is harder to get into? That depends on a number of things. Here are some of the most important factors to consider when deciding which path is right for you:

Grade point averages (GPA)

Those seeking medical school acceptance should aim for a GPA of 3.5 or higher. In comparison, dental school applicants should strive for a 3.0 GPA or more, but keep in mind that the average cumulative GPA of accepted dental school applicants sits at around 3.55

Test scores

With test scores, it is important to note that prospective medical students and dental students are required to take two different tests in order to be considered for a program. Medical students are required to pass The Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT), while dental students must pass the Dental Admission Test (DAT) 

Although both tests take a considerable amount of preparation, the MCAT often takes more. This is partly due to the fact that the MCAT is a longer exam, but also because it requires a deeper knowledge of scientific studies, especially biology, living systems, and the foundations of behavior. The DAT, in comparison, tests general academic ability, perceptual ability, and comprehension of scientific information

The number of applicants

There are more medical school applicants than dental school applicants. In fact, medical school applications rose a record-breaking 17.8% for the 2021 to 2022 school year and the class of 2021 was larger than any class before them. That said, there are many more medical schools than dental schools in the United States, making it easier to get accepted into a medical school program. 

According to the Princeton Review, the acceptance rate for medical school was 41% from 2018 to 2019. When it comes to dental school, the rate of acceptance drops significantly, coming in at just 5.1% from 2017 to 2018.