Pre-Dentistry at UH Mānoa

Text compiled from the American Dental Association (ADA) website, American Dental Education Association (ADEA) website, the ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools, the Dental Admission Test Candidate’s Guide, NAAHP’s Medical Professions Admissions Guide,and the UHM 2013-2014 Catalog.

Dentistry Programs in Hawai`i: None*

*Note: The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry has 3 seats each year for Hawai`i students. If you are interested or would like more information, please contact Dr. Russell Tabata (an alumnus & spokesperson) or visit their website:

Dentistry Programs
Prerequisites for Admission
What makes a strong candidate?
Researching Schools
Entrance Exam
The Application Process
Four-Year Sample Plan
Financial Aid
Additional Information


Field Description:

Dentists are health care professionals whose primary responsibility is maintaining the health of patients’ oral cavities and adjacent structures.

Dentists provide preventive care and diagnose and treat problems affecting both hard and soft tissues, including teeth, jaw, lips, gingival tissue, and tongue. They also perform medical procedures such as surgery, laser surgery, and tissue grafts. Dentists improve their patients’ appearances through cosmetic dental procedures, which require finely attuned aesthetic sensibilities. Dentists provide a wide variety of services in many community arenas and must be comfortable interacting with people of all ages, cultures, and personalities. Click here to watch a video profile about general dentistry.

In addition to General Dentistry, there are currently nine dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association (ADA):

  1. Dental Public Health: the control and prevention of dental disease through organized community efforts
  2. Endodontics:  the study and treatment of tissues affecting the vitality of the teeth (dental pulp)
  3. Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology:  the study, diagnosis, and sometimes treatment of diseases in the oral and maxillofacial region
  4. Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology: diagnostic imaging
  5. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery:  extractions, implants, and facial surgery
  6. Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics: the straightening of teeth due to developmental abnormalities that affect function and appearance
  7. Pediatric Dentistry: dentistry for children and adolescents
  8. Periodontics: the study and treatment of diseases of the periodontium, and dental implants
  9. Prosthodontics:  the replacement of missing teeth with fixed or removable substitutes

Sign up here for the ADEA GoDental Newsletter for more dental resources and networking opportunities.

Work Setting:

Most dentists become general practitioners and work in private practice, renting or owning an office and employing an average of four employees. Some, however, work in group practices or hospitals. Some dentists also teach, conduct research, or work in public health.


Related Careers: dental assistant, dental hygienist, and dental laboratory technician.

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Dentistry Programs

Years of Schooling Required to Become a Dentist:

8+ years of education:

  • Undergraduate Preparation (~4 years);
  • Dental School (4 years);
  • Residency (1-6 years, optional).

Although not all schools list a bachelor’s degree as a requirement for admission, few students are admitted without one. Completing a bachelor’s degree is highly recommended. Admission to dental schools is highly competitive, and a bachelor’s degree significantly strengthens a student’s application and provides students with greater options for advancement and career opportunities. For help choosing a major, please see the “Choosing a Major for Professional Schools in Health” webpage. Click here to listen to dental students speak about their experience as pre-dental students.

Degree Conferred:

Upon completion of dental school, students are awarded either the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). Both degrees are equivalent with respect to licensure and professional practice.

Post-Baccalaureate and Special Masters Programs 

There are a large number of Post-Baccalaureate and Special Masters Programs offered across the nation. Although these programs vary greatly in terms of degree offerings, course curriculum, and program duration, they are all geared to help students in preparation for professional school by taking relevant graduate level courses or to meet the necessary  prerequisites courses for their intended program. For more information, please visit our Post-Baccalaureate and Specials Masters Programs page.

Combined Degree Programs:

Many dental schools offer combined degree programs: DMD or DDS/MS or PhD to combine dentistry with research or teaching; DMD or DDS/MBA to combine dentistry with business administration; DMD or DDS/MPH to combine dentistry with public health; and so on. Combined degrees can be offered concurrently, sequentially, or in combination, and often extend the number of years in dental school.

What to Expect in Dental School:

The first two years of dental school concentrate on the basic sciences, although some programs allow students to interact with patients almost from the start.  Years three and four usually focus on clinical training in a variety of settings and often include instruction in business management. After graduation, dentists who desire advanced training or specialization can choose to complete a residency.

The Licensing Examination(s):

Graduates of accredited dental schools are eligible to sit for Parts I and II of the National Board Dental Examinations, a national exam for dentistry licensure in the United States. Dentistry licensure is regulated at the state level, and students may need to satisfy additional requirements depending on the state in which they intend to practice.  All dentists must be licensed to practice.

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Prerequisites for Admission

Most importantly, remember that requirements vary from school to school! You must research to create a list of all the prerequisites you will need to apply to the schools you are interested in attending.

The following UHM courses are commonly required for admission to dental schools:

BIOL 171/171L and 172/172LIntroduction to Biology I and II8 cr.
BIOC 241 or higherBiochemistry3 or 4 cr.
CHEM 161/161L and 162/162LGeneral Chemistry I and II8 cr.
CHEM 272/272L and 273/273LOrganic Chemistry I and II9 cr.
ENG 100 and 200Composition I and II3-12 cr.
MICR 130 or higherMicrobiology*3 cr.
PHYL 141/141L and 142/142LHuman Anatomy and Physiology I and II**8 cr.
PHYS 151/151L and 152/152L
(or PHYS 170/170/L and 272/272L)
College Physics I and II
(or General Physics I and II)
8 or 9 cr.
PSY 100Survey of Psychology3 cr.

Additional requirements may include courses such as calculus and upper-division biology. It is also recommended that non-science majors take additional upper-division or advanced science electives beyond the prerequisites listed above.

ART 113, ART 116, ART 242, and ART 344 are recommended to take in preparation for the perceptual ability section of the DAT.

CHEM 171/171L might not be accepted by dental schools in place of CHEM 161/161L and 162/162L. Students should double check with the schools they are interested in if the schools would accept CHEM 171/171L in place of CHEM 161/161L and 162/162L.

*Some schools may require microbiology lab.

**It is strongly recommended to check with each school for specific requirements.  Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry requires PHYL 301/301L and 302/302L.

Click here for a four-year sample plan.

Click here for a sample general timeline.

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What makes a strong candidate?

Schools need to be certain that the students they accept are capable of completing the dental curriculum and are likely to become good dentists.

Are you capable of completing the dental curriculum?

Admissions committees seek students who have:

  • completed the prerequisites
  • a high overall GPA
  • a high science/math GPA
  • performed well on the DAT
  • balanced their course load so it is challenging yet realistic

Are you likely to become a good dentist?

Admissions committees seek students who have:

  • demonstrated empathy, compassion, and a commitment to public service
  • high ethical and moral standards and a conscientious work ethic
  • demonstrated maturity (judgment, responsibility, dependability)
  • a broad liberal arts education that includes the humanities and social sciences
  • experience in the field and with what dentistry entails
  • good manual dexterity and a strong sense of aesthetics
  • a well-rounded life that balances academics, community service, social activities, and personal interests (hobbies, skills, sports, etc.)
  • excellent oral and written communication skills
  • a high degree of professionalism in all aspects of life
  • strong letters of recommendation

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Researching Schools

There are currently about 65 accredited dental schools in the US, each unique in its mission, philosophy, criteria, and strengths.  Applicants can research schools using the ADEA U.S. and Canadian Dental Schools.  A physical copy of the ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools is also available for use.

Although there are resources that “rank” schools, the rankings are rarely pertinent for individual applicants. More important is whether there is a good match between applicant and school.

To find schools that are good a fit for you (PAC peer advisors can help with this process):

  1. Assess your individual strengths and weaknesses, your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  2. Start by considering all schools, which usually includes all 70+ schools;
  3. Create your “Long List” by omitting the schools that do not match your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  4. Once you have your DAT scores, create your “Short List” by categorizing the schools on your Long List into “Reach,” “Match,” and “Safety”, ranking the schools by preference, and finally choosing how many schools to apply to. Be sure to apply to schools in all 3 categories (“Reach,” “Match,” and “Safety.”).

If possible, visit the schools to see their facilities, talk to admissions directors, and chat with students.

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Entrance Exam

All dental schools require applicants to take a standardized test call  the Dental Admission Test (DAT).

Preparation: Your most important preparation for the DAT is your undergraduate courses, many of which sharpen your writing and verbal reasoning skills. Remember that your Reading Comprehension score is not only the most accurate predictor of how well you will do in dental school, but also the most difficult score to improve.

DAT Summary:  The DAT assesses your knowledge and skills in Natural Sciences, Perceptual Ability, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning.  The test requires ~4 hours to complete, and entails ~280 multiple choice questions.  The DAT is administered in a computer-based format and is offered almost any day of the year.

DAT Scoring: Each of the four sections receives a score between 1 and 30. The four scores are averaged to create a composite score using the same range. The mean score among examinees is 18; scores of 20 or higher are considered competitive for dental schools.

Official Test Preparation Material:    

  • DAT Exam Overview
  • DAT Sample Test Items, by ADA
  • DAT Tutorial, by ADA provides the test format, sample items, and information about navigating through the test.
  • Prometric’s Test Drive provides students an opportunity to take a 30-minute “dry-run” of the test center prior to day of the exam in order for students to familiarize themselves with the feel of a computer-based testing environment.

Commercial Test Preparation Companies: 

Here is more information on how to prepare for an entrance exam.

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The Application Process

There are three general steps in applying to dental schools: the primary application, the secondary application, and the interview. The process follows an accelerated timeline.

1. Primary applications must be filed with the Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS), which is a centralized application system. It includes a personal statement (4500 characters).  Once the application is complete, AADSAS forwards it to whichever schools the student has designated. The AADSAS application fee is about $245 for the first dental school and $98 for each additional dental school designation.

2. Secondary applications or supplementary forms are specific to individual dental schools; schools send these to applicants after they have received the AADSAS application. Both frequently request additional information, essays, and letters of recommendation. Some schools screen applicants before the applications or forms are sent out. However, secondary applications and supplementary forms differ in that the latter is not a formal application. Most fees are $35 or more and change from year to year, depending on the applicant numbers.

3. Interviews: After reviewing the primary and secondary applications (or supplementary forms), dental schools invite promising applicants to interview. Applicants are responsible for all costs incurred while interviewing, including airfare, lodging, ground transportation, professional attire, and meals. To learn more about interviews, attend our upcoming interview-related orientations and workshops hereFor sample interview questions click here. Check out this article on Interview Preparation, published in the ADEA Go Dental Newsletter.

Traffic Rules: Although the application process varies from school to school, ADEA has established “traffic rules” to ensure fairness for all concerned. The rules are available online and stipulate both schools’ and applicants’ rights and responsibilities during the application process. All applicants should be familiar with these rules before applying.

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  • The more you know about the school, the better your chances of being accepted.
  • Most application questions can be answered by reading the ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools.
  • Contact individual schools’ admissions offices to find out how they handle:
    • Advanced Placement (AP) credits
    • International Baccalaureate (IB) credits
    • College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits
    • military credits
    • courses taken at a community college
    • non-US coursework
    • courses taken for credit/no credit instead of a grade
    • residency issues
    • time limits on prerequisite science courses

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Financial Aid

Financial Planning is a crucial step in applying to dental schools. It is important for students to create a plan and make decisions in their educational expenses. Students are highly encouraged to budget their finances before, during, and after dental school. To learn more about financial planning, click here.


WICHE:  Hawai`i residents are eligible to participate in the Professional School Exchange Program (PSEP), a service of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). PSEP enables qualified residents from WICHE participating states affordable access to enroll in selected out of state professional healthcare programs at participating WICHE institutions when such programs are not available at a public institution in their home state. Many Hawai‘i residents must attend professional schools out-of-state to obtain the necessary education and training needed for professional healthcare positions. Therefore, the State of Hawai‘i, through WICHE PSEP, helps subsidize the tuition costs for qualifying Hawai‘i residents to attend a participating WICHE PSEP program. In return, WICHE PSEP students are required to return to work in the State after completing their program of study.

PSEP selected students pay reduced levels of tuition at the WICHE participating institution. The home state pays a negotiated “support fee” designed to cover a portion of the cost of the students’ education; this fee is paid directly to the enrolling program’s institution. No payments are made directly to students. Students enrolled at public institutions generally pay the resident tuition rate, however, students may be required to pay the unmet non-resident tuition differential if the WICHE PSEP support fee does not cover the entire non-resident tuition differential.  Students enrolled at private institutions pay the balance of the full private tuition minus the WICHE PSEP support fee.

Support is available to a limited number of Hawai‘i residents studying dentistry and enrolling at participating WICHE PSEP schools.  For a list of participating schools, click here.

For more information on the Hawai’i WICHE PSEP program, please visit

Note: To be considered for this scholarship, you must apply one full year in advance of matriculation, generally in the summer of your application year.



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Additional Information

UH Mānoa’s Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center (PAC) has reference books, lists of volunteer opportunities, academic planning worksheets, and one-on-one advising by peers who can help you prepare for and apply to dental school.

AssociationsAmerican Student Dental Association (ASDA)
American Dental Education Association (ADEA)
American Dental Association (ADA)
Learn More About DentistryADEA GOdental
Entrance ExamsDental Admissions Test (DAT)
Researching SchoolsADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools
Physical copy available at PAC
ApplicationsAssociated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS)
Financial AidWestern Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE)
International Volunteer OpportunityHealth – Clubs and Organizations