Are you thinking of studying Dentistry?

Image shows a dentist looking into a child's mouth.
If you see yourself as someone who enjoys helping people, you may be considering a clinical degree that will train you to look after, diagnose and treat patients.
Dentistry is up there with Medicine in how challenging and competitive it is, with the added dimension of caring for patients who will often be very scared of going to see you. Have a read of this guide if you’re contemplating a degree in Dentistry to learn more and see whether you think it’s the degree for you.

What kind of things can I expect to study?

The five-year Dentistry course focuses on developing students into professional dentists, who are able to achieve clinical excellence, practising safely and with high standards of patient care.

Anatomy, physiology and biochemistry

Image shows an anatomical drawing of a human head.
Anatomy is an important part of a degree in Dentistry.

You’ll learn all about molecular and cellular biology as part of your early Dentistry training, focusing on the systems of the human body, and in particular on oral biology and the anatomy of the head and neck. Microbiology and the study of disease are among the other important elements of your studies, covering such issues as tooth decay.

Practical skills

As well as the theory, you’ll obviously also acquire the clinical skills you’ll need to become a dentist – under supervision, of course! For example, you’ll learn how to carry out patient assessment via dental examinations; you’ll learn how to assess a patient’s medical history, and develop the manual dexterity and knowledge needed to carry out orthodontic and other cosmetic work, use anaesthetic, and so on. You’ll also learn diagnostic skills and develop the knowledge and ability to decide on appropriate treatments. You’ll be taught how to replace teeth with implants, including the technicalities of how they’re constructed, and of course you’ll be taught to conduct routine tooth extractions as well as other kinds of oral surgery.

Healthcare ethics/law

Underpinning medical and dental practice are the laws and ethics by which you agree to abide as a professional medical practitioner or dentist, which you’ll learn about as part of your Dentistry degree.

What do I need for a Dentistry degree?

Image shows a mixture of beakers and flasks.
If you don’t enjoy Chemistry, you probably wouldn’t like Dentistry.

As you can probably guess, you need to be good at science to study Dentistry; A-levels in Chemistry and Biology are a usual requirement. Most universities don’t mind what you have as your other subject, provided it’s not General Studies or Critical Thinking; though Physics, Mathematics or Further Mathematics are useful additional A-levels, they won’t necessarily put you at an advantage, and you can choose a humanities subject if you wish (English may be useful, as it demonstrates a high level of communication among other things.)
People skills are also essential for dentists; it’s a job that, by its very nature, requires frequent and close contact with members of the public, and you need to be the sort of person who puts people at ease. You’ll be dealing with a lot of people who are very nervous about visiting the dentist. Work experience is an important part of your application, though it doesn’t necessarily have to be related to dentistry, as it’s more to do with your experience of dealing with the public, along with your communication skills and caring nature (voluntary work counts too, if you can show qualities like these as a result).
You’ll need to sit the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) in the year of your application; this is part of the selection process and tests your mental abilities, attitudes and behaviours to help demonstrate whether or not you’re a suitable candidate. To begin a Dentistry degree, you also need to be able to obtain ‘health clearance’ to prove that your own health is sufficient to carry out clinical work, so that the university can be sure that you’re fit to practise and that you’re not going to pass on any health conditions to patients. To this end, you’ll also need to be up to date with your vaccinations.

What skills will I acquire?

A degree in Dentistry gives you an almost unrivalled range of both practical and interpersonal skills, as well as the specialist knowledge needed to become a dentist. Among the skills you’ll acquire are advanced problem-solving, manual dexterity, customer care and patient management, teamwork and communication. Your investigative skills will also be honed as you learn to diagnose diseases and other problems.

Will I get to travel as part of my degree?

You won’t normally get to travel as part of a Dentistry degree, but you will be going to a training hospital or community dental practice as part of your clinical training.

What careers are possible with a Dentistry degree?

Image shows a dentist's tools.
Dentists can pursue a variety of specialisms.

A Dentistry degree prepares you for a career as a dentist, which is a solid career choice and one that will always be in demand. Dentists can command high salaries, particularly in the private sector and once partner status is achieved within a dental practice. After you complete your five-year course, you take a salaried NHS position in a Vocational Dental Practitioner position. These involve four days of clinical work and one of study.
A degree in Dentistry also leaves your options open for specialising, so you don’t necessarily have to go into general practice. For example, you could become a dental consultant in a hospital, or get a job in a teaching hospital as a clinical academic, or specialise in a particular area of dentistry, such as paediatric dentistry.

Related degrees

If you’re thinking about applying for a Dentistry degree, it’s conceivable that you might also be interested in these two degrees.

  • Medicine – if you’re interested in being able to help patients with other problems, rather than just with oral health, medicine might be a better degree for you.
  • Veterinary Sciences – this is another clinical degree, and might be better suited to you if you’d rather treat animals than humans.

A final thought on Dentistry

Image shows a dentist looking into a child's mouth.
Dentistry is an extremely competitive course.

Dentistry is one of those degrees that really requires you to have a clear idea of what you want to do for a career before you apply. It’s a five-year course, and though it teaches plenty of transferable skills, it’s not the kind of degree that you’d do on a whim. If you’re determined that this is the career for you, however, the career prospects are excellent.

Image credits: banner; anatomy; Chemistry; tools; dentist.