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
Financial Aid
Additional Information

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.

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.

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

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

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Dentistry Programs

Becoming a dentist requires about 8 to 10 years of education:

Undergraduate Preparation (~4 years);
Dental School (4 years);
Residency (1-2 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
CHEM 161/161L and 162/162LGeneral Chemistry I and II8 cr.
CHEM 272/272L and 273/273LOrganic Chemistry I and II9 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.
ENG 100 and higherComposition and higher3-12 cr.

Additional requirements may include courses such as biochemistry, calculus, psychology, 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.

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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
  • 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 Official Guide to Dental Schools.

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:    

Click here for DAT Exam Overview

Click here to apply for the DAT and information on scheduling the DAT

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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.

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.  Once the application is complete, AADSAS forwards it to whichever schools the student has designated.

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.

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.

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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Financial Aid

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). In a competitive process, PSEP selects applicants to receive financial support from state funds; the students who are selected pay subsidized tuition if they attend a participating program on the West Coast. WICHE applications become available in July and have a mid-October deadline.

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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  • 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

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.

UHM's Pre-Dental
American Student Dental Association (ASDA)
American Dental Education Association (ADEA)
American Dental Association (ADA)
Dental Admissions Test (DAT)
Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS)
Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE)
Official Guide to Dental Schools by ADEAavailable in PAC
ADEA GOdental
Preparing for Graduate School by the Honors Program

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