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Dentistry

Dentistry is a branch of medicine that concerns itself with the disorders and conditions of the oral cavity. Dentists attend dental school to earn a doctorate degree in dental surgery (D.D.S.) or dental medicine (D.D.M.). Entering into a dental school and becoming a dentist is a highly competitive endeavor that requires a student to demonstrate the highest levels of academic achievement as well as a strong desire to serve others. The journey to dentistry really begins in a student’s freshman year as they select their coursework and begin working towards their major.

Pre-Dental is not a major at the University of Houston. Therefore, you will need to pick a major that reflects what you are actually interested in learning. Indeed, there is no "best" major for pre-Dent students.

Many pre-Dent students select a STEM major, such as Biology, because many of the required courses for admission into dental school are already included as a part of the degree-program. However, dental school admissions committees do not care which major you choose, as any major can lead to a career in dentistry. So when choosing a major, you should be looking for a field that you are interested in and one that will challenge you academically, rather than the major you believe will help you "stand out."

While GPA is important, dental school admissions committees can easily identify when an applicant has selected coursework or pathway that is not challenging. You will benefit more from taking difficult classes together, than taking each course in isolation.

The basic course requirements for admission into dental school include:

  • Anatomy & Physiology: BIOL 3324/3224 (Physiology with Lab) and BIOL 4397 (Anatomy)
    • Note: BIOL 1334/1134 and BIOL 1344/1144 have been accepted by Texas A&M in previous admission cycles, but are not preferred. Our office recommends completing the advanced level A&P courses (see Texas A&M Dental for additional information).
  • Biology: BIOL 1361/1161 & BIOL 1362/1162 (*BIOL 1306/1106 & BIOL 1307/1107)
  • General Chemistry: CHEM 1331/1111 & CHEM 1332/1112 (*CHEM 1311/1111 & CHEM 1312/1112)
  • Organic Chemistry: CHEM 3331/3221 & CHEM 3332/3222 (*CHEM 2323/2123 & CHEM 2325/2125)
  • Biochemistry: BCHS 3304
  • Microbiology: BIOL 3332 (*BIOL 2321)
  • Physics: PHYS 1301/1101 & PHYS 1302/1102 or PHYS 1321/1121 & PHYS 1322/1122 (*PHYS 2325/2125 & PHYS 2326/2126)
  • English: ENGL 1303 & ENGL 1304 (*ENGL 1301 & ENGL 1302)
  • Statistics: MATH 2311 (*MATH 1342), MATH 3339, PSYC 3301 (*PSYC 2317)
  • Additional Advanced Biology Courses (at least 2): BCHS 3305 (Biochemistry II), BIOL 3301 (Genetics), BIOL 3324 (Human Physiology), BIOL 4323 (Immunology), BIOL 4374 (Cell Biology), etc..

*Course names/numbers effective Fall 2021

The above requirements are true for the dental schools in Texas; however, it is important you review the specific requirements for each school you are interested in applying using both the dental school webpage and the ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools.

You do not need to complete all pre-requisite courses to apply to dental school, but should have completed most of the required courses. All pre-requisites will need to be completed by July of the year you plan to start dental school. Finally, a C or better is required in all pre-requisite courses.

Can I use AP/IB credit?

Generally speaking, it is recommended you do not use AP credit to satisfy pre-requisites for dental school. That said, most TMDSAS participating institutions accept AP credit as long as the credit hours and course for which AP credit is used is clearly outlined in your transcript (which it is at UH). Non-TX dental schools are varied with regards to AP policy. It is important you review the specific admissions policies of all programs in which you to hope to apply.

Can I take prerequisite courses at another institution, such as a community college?

Yes, to a certain extent, you may complete pre-requisite courses outside of the University of Houston. However, our general advice is that if you are enrolled at the University of Houston, you should only take courses that fulfill coursework for your degree plan or for your professional school application at the University of Houston. Taking 1-2 courses in the Summer outside of UH is not a big deal, but avoid making it a habit.

If you are a transfer student bringing in credits from another institution (or from dual-enrollment), then you do not need to retake prerequisites for your professional school application at UH. That includes transfer students who are transferring from community college as well as four-year institutions. The quality of your education will be tested in the coursework that you take once you enroll at the university.

The various applications for dental school (TMDSAS and AADSAS) calculate GPA in several different ways:

  • Overall (Undergraduate + Graduate, BCPM)
  • Undergraduate (overall, BCPM, non-BCPM)
  • Graduate (overall, BCPM, non-BCPM)

Your Overall GPA includes all coursework completed at the college-level. This includes all courses taken at the University of Houston, but also any coursework completed at other institutions (e.g., HCC, Lonestar, etc.). Additionally, all attempts are included in the GPA calculation, even if you withdrew (W) or received a better grade. You must submit a transcript from every institution attended to each application service.

Science GPA

The TMDSAS application calculates science GPA as BCPM: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics.

The AADSAS application calculates science GPA as only BCP (and excludes mathematics courses).

Coursework in other fields, even those in STEM (e.g., Engineering, Kinesiology, etc.), are often excluded from the BCPM GPA. Some non-BCPM courses can still be factored into the BCPM GPA if they include >50% Biology content. If you received an A and are unsure, include it as BCPM. Each course will be evaluated during the verification process and you will be allowed to appeal specific course decisions.

The Dental Admission Test (DAT) is the standardized, multiple-choice exam that dental school admissions use as a standardized metric to measure student preparation for dental school.

Students are required to the read the DAT Guide before submitting an application to test.

Length: 4 hours and 30 minutes

Sections: 

  • Survey of the Natural Sciences (includes Biology, General Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry)
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Quantitative Reasoning (includes Algebra, Statistics, and Data Analysis/Interpretation)
  • Perceptual Ability

Cost: The registration fee is $445 which includes the exam and scores sent to the dental schools listed during registration. Sending scores to additional schools after the initial DAT application costs $36 each. Requests for ADA Partial Fee Waivers can be made starting on January 1 and applicants should apply ASAP.

Scores: Scores range from 1-30. A score of 19 is considered about average. Dental admissions committees group scores into the Academic Average (AA) and the Perceptual Ability Test score (PAT) It is recommended to score at least a 20 or greater on each section.

As of 2019, the average accepted applicant in Texas scored 21 (AA)/20 (PAT).

High DAT scores do not guarantee admission and should not be expected to outweigh a low GPA. Further, you should only take the DAT once you are adequately prepared for the exam. The idea is to take the real exam only once, though many applicants do attempt the test twice. The key is you must improve on your second attempt; therefore, retakes should not be taken lightly.

DAT Preparation: Preparation for the DAT can take many forms, whether through self-study or a formal test-preparation course. Most applicants dedicate at least 3-4 months to preparing for the DAT. This includes content review and practice tests. It is recommend you complete at least 5-6 full-length practice tests before sitting for the real exam. Doing so will allow you to build endurance for the exam as well as give you a better idea of where you "true score" lies.There are a variety of DAT prep resources, each differing in both cost and teaching style.

The Pre-Health Advising Center does not endorse any specific test prep resource. We encourage you to explore each of the different options to determine which will best fit your needs.

Beyond completion of the pre-requisite coursework, dental schools also expect applicants to use their time outside of class engaged in extracurricular activity. These activities can typically be categorized as: Shadowing, Volunteering, Research, Leadership, Employment, and Hobbies

Importantly, building a competitive application to dental school is not about checking boxes off of a list. It is not necessary that you participate in an activity within each category. Instead, consider your interests. What do you want or need to do? If you have to work a part-time job and can only shadow a few hours a month, that is fine. If you would rather volunteer in a local clinic than participate in research, that is fine.

Dental schools do not want robots! The strongest applicants are those that seek out opportunities, not because they feel obligated or because they believe the activity will make them "look good", but because they are sincerely interested and feel they will gain a new skill or learn more about an aspect of healthcare or their community. It is also ok to participate in activities simply because they are fun and a great way to meet new people and immerse yourself in the Houston community or on campus.

Shadowing

Shadowing involves observing healthcare professionals (i.e., dentists) in action. Shadowing should be viewed as your opportunity to "test drive" the profession you hope to dedicate your life to and gain more insight in to the the day-to-day life of a dentist and patient care. It is merely a means to an end, not the end itself. Shadowing should help you confirm whether this is the career path you wish to pursue or if another career would be more suitable. As such, you should not be concerned with the number of hours you have shadowed. In fact, most dental schools refrain from specifying a set number of shadowing hours in order to allow an applicant to decide for themselves whether they have sufficient exposure to feel confident in their decision to apply to dental school. It is recommended that you try to shadow more than one dentist in order to gain multiple perspectives of the field of dentistry. Additionally, most dental schools will require a letter from a general dentist with whom you have shadowed.

It is generally recommend that you shadowing for at least 50 hours, but there is no minimum or maximum. Often, your time is better spent volunteering or participating in other, more engaging, activities than shadowing, so do not feel compelled to shadow forever.

Importantly, shadowing means hands-off observation only. Please refrain from participating in activities that could be construed as practicing dentistry (especially abroad). You are not yet licensed nor trained as a healthcare professional, therefore, use ethical decision-making in the choosing the activities you observe and participate in.

Here are some questions you could ask the dentist or dental specialist you shadow:

  • What do you like most about your work?
  • What do you find challenging about your profession?
  • Would you still pursue dentistry if you could go back in time?
  • What are some of the highlights of your work?
  • What gets you excited about coming to work every day?
  • If you were not practicing dentistry, what would you be doing?
  • How do you balance work and family life?
  • Do you participate in any community service?
  • If you could change something about the practice of dentistry, what would it be?
  • What did you think about your dental school experience? Do you have any advice?
  • What was the most challenging aspect of dental school?

Where to begin:

  • Start by asking your personal dentist if he or she would be willing to be shadowed.
  • If your personal dentist is unable to be shadowed, ask if he or she can recommend another practitioner.
  • Ask your friends, your classmates, your friends’ parents, or your professors to see if their dentist might be willing to be shadowed.
  • Reach out to your local dental school to see if they have local alumni who would be interested in being shadowed.
  • Get informed about HIPAA – it lets the dentist know you understand this important part of patient confidentiality.
See here for our guidelines to get started shadowing.

Volunteer

Just like shadowing, volunteering is not just a box to check. It is an opportunity to display your desire to serve others, so there is no minimum number of hours. Indeed, when asked why they are interested in becoming dentists, many applicants say because the wish to help people. While this may be true, saying it alone is not enough, you must prove it! Do not wait until you are a doctor to be a service to others. Approach volunteering from the view that this is just something that you do for its intrinsic value, rather than because you are obligated.

You do not need to volunteer in ten different settings and no amount of volunteer work will ever substitute for a poor GPA or DAT score. Think about how you'd like to serve others. What kind of environment or what population of people do you think needs your attention and help? Find an organization that works in that area and try to dedicate a few hours every week. If you grow tired of a particular setting, find a different one and commit your time and effort in the same way. Dental schools can sense when an applicant is participating in activities only to pad their resume versus someone who is investing in opportunities in which they are most interested.

Research

Research is not required for admission into dental school, nor is it valued as highly as compared with medical school admission. That said, participating in a research project can strengthen your application as well as offer another opportunity to receive a strong letter of recommendation.

If you are not interested in research, you are better off engaging in other activities that you are more passionate about. Remember that admissions committees appreciate you following your interests, rather than simply checking off a box of activities you feel are necessary for admission.

If you are interested in research, you should not feel limited to wet-lab/bench or life-science research. Indeed, feel free to explore research projects outside of medicine, healthcare, or translational science if you are interested in other areas. It is more about being passionate and productive in a project, than the specific content or research topic. You are also not required to do research as part of a formal program (though those options exist!), but can simply be an undergraduate volunteer in an on-campus research lab.

Leadership

The strongest applicants are those that not only participate in activities such as shadowing or volunteering, but show a propensity for leadership as well. Leadership opportunities can be gained both on- and off-campus, such as serving as a supervisor or manager at your job, or team captain of a sports team, or as an officer in a student organization. The type of activity that you are a engaged in is often less important than the experience and skills you gain from serving in a leadership capacity.

The most common form of leadership for many applicants comes from serving in officer roles within student organizations. Consider joining a club within your Freshman/Sophomore year, gradually becoming more involved over time, and applying for any available officer positions in your Junior/Senior years. There is no requirement that you serve as President, as other roles may offer ample opportunity to develop leadership, organization, and teamwork skills.

Employment

An often overlooked activity is simply working a full- or part-time job. Indeed, our office is often asked by pre-Dental students whether admissions committees will care that they worked while in school. The answer is YES!. Dental schools value applicants that have shown a clear ability to balance their academic responsibilities with other activities, including a job.

It is also not that important that your job may not be directly healthcare related. Certainly, there is merit in working as a dental assistant, dental hygienist, or medical scribe, but a lot can be gained from working "regular" jobs as well. Serving as a cashier at HEB offers an opprotunity to showcase a number of qualities sought after by dental schools: Teamwork, Reliabiliity/Dependability, Social Skills, Ethical Responsibility, etc.

If you are interested in completing a certification training program, such as dental assisting, you may review the options available at local community colleges and through online programs:

Hobbies

As mentioned above, dental schools are not interested in robots. Therefore, it is perfectly fine to participate in activities that are not directly related to dentistry or healthcare. Sports, music, dancing, etc. can all fall into this category. Admissions committees recognize applicants are individuals whose lives do not revolve fully around dental medicine (this is true for dentists too!) and appreciate those that participate in activities that help foster a healthier, more well-balanced lifestyle. Indeed, engaging in hobbies is a useful strategy for managing stress in dental school as well.

Short answer is yes.

That said, which organization(s) to join is completely up to you. One misconception that students make is that you must join all pre-dental or pre-health clubs. Instead, consider what hobbies and interests you have and seek out like-minded people. General advice for any UH student is to join at least one academic club and one social club. Academic clubs include professional clubs like pre-med clubs but also clubs for a major of an academic discipline. Social clubs include Greek life, hobbyist clubs, and other clubs that allow you to explore a variety of extra-curricular activities.

Generally speaking, the impact of joining an student organization (besides gaining friends and learning about a particular area) on your application will depend on your level of involvement. Dental school admissions committees strongly value leadership in applicants. Therefore, it is not enough to simply attend organizational meetings, but you should look for ways to further the mission or cause of the organization. This could mean becoming an officer, but may also mean engaging in activities organized by the club, such as fundraisers, food-drives, volunteer activities, etc. If you are more involved, you will have more to included on your application and discuss during an interview.

Admission can never be guaranteed, but a competitive dental school applicant has:

  • Strong GPA (>3.5)
  • Strong DAT (>19-AA/19-PAT)
  • Pattern of taking challenging coursework and credit-load (>12/semester)
  • Extra-curricular involvement (leadership in student organizations, research, employment, etc.)
  • Consistent volunteer experience [Tips for clinical/community experience]
  • Experience in or exposure to the dental field (shadowing, volunteering, or employment)
  • Engagement in activities or hobbies involving use of hands and manual dexterity
  • Personal essay that conveys clear interest in medicine and specific reasons for pursuing a career as a physician [Tips for writing personal statements]
  • Three letters of evaluation (from faculty, physicians, supervisors) that detail strengths and overall suitability for a career in patient-care and medicine [Tips for requesting letters]

The key is to perform well in your science classes, do well on the DAT, and pursue activities and opportunities that introduce you to the field of dentistry. It also important that you follow your interests as well, even if they are not directly related to dentistry or healthcare. Admissions committees value applicants that well-rounded and have interests outside of dentistry and medicine. 

If you do not feel that you are competitive, you may consider taking a gap-year to address any weaknesses in your application. [Tips for planning a gap-year]

Application Information [EY2022]

Typically, you will apply to dental school during the Summer term between your Junior and Senior years. That said, one of the most important decisions you will make in the application process is deciding when to apply. There is no one timeline that fits all students. It all depends on when you can submit your strongest possible application.

A lot of planning must go into preparing a competitive application, so it's important to carefully consider your timeline. Our office emphasizes the importance of applying when you are the most competitive applicant you can be; do NOT rush your application timeline. Being competitive relies on both academic and extracurricular plans AND experiences. You will need to assess when you will be the most competitive applicant.

Things to consider when determining your application timeline:

Academic Accomplishment

  • Have you finished ALL prerequisites? When will these be completed? All prerequisites must be completed by July of the year you hope to start dental school.
  • How have you performed in those courses? Do you need more time to improve? Did you receive lower than a B- or opted for a Satisfactory in any prerequisites? Do you need to retake any courses?
  • When will you be ready to take the DAT? You should not plan to take the DAT multiple times.

Experience

  • Community Service should be substantial and consistent. If you just started, you are likely not ready.
  • Have you gained clinical experience? Can you clearly explain why you are interested in being a dentist? Can you list specific reasons and provide "proof" that you understand what you are getting into?

Support

  • Do you have at least three people who can write strong letters of support? Letters should come from those who can speak highly of your qualifications and suitability for success in medical school. These may include faculty, dentists, volunteer coordinators, research mentors, job supervisors, etc.
  • Are your family/friends are supportive of your goals? Are they open to you applying to a broad range of dental schools, not just those close to home?
  • Have you utilized UH Pre-Health Advising services? Are you familiar with the Health Professions Advisory Committee evaluation process to receive a committee letter?

Your professional and personal goals

  • Are you sure of your professional goal? Have you sufficiently investigated the field of dentistry such that you are confident that the career of a dentist is one you wish to pursue, at the exclusion of other careers in healthcare?
  • Do you need/want some time for other experiences between undergrad and dental school? Are you burned out? Dental schools are looking for mature students read to accept the challenge. If you need more time to prepare yourself, take it!
  • Do you need time to save for/pay for dental school?

School Selection

Number of schools: UH students typically apply to between 3-10 dental schools. Our office recommends applying to at least all Texas-based schools (4 total).

Factors to consider:

  • Location I: Students have the best chance of admission at the public dental schools in their state of residency. Outside of your in-state school(s), consider private schools and other state public schools that accept a reasonable number of out-of-state residents. Use the ADEA Guide to Dental Schools to help constrain your list.
  • Location II: Urban vs. rural setting, proximity to family, recreational opportunities, cost of living, weather, etc.
  • Mission Statements: You should look for schools with mission statements that fit with your own goals.You will do your best work in a place that makes you feel comfortable.
  • Curriculum: Seek out information about the curriculum and consider how it fits with your learning style.Pass/fail courses? Recorded lectures? Problem-based learning? Small-groups?
  • Cost: Consider tuition and type of financial aid available

Do not focus on “rankings”. In fact, the primary governing body of the dental schools (ADEA) does not rank or endorse any ranking of the accredited schools and programs within their organizations. There are no "safety" dental schools. Each and every dental school in the U.S. has rigorous admission standards.

Once you have decided to apply, you will need to review the various application services used by the different dental schools:

Texas Dental Schools (TMDSAS)

  • Centralized Application Service: Texas Medical & Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS)
  • Number of Participating Schools: All public Texas dental schools (4 total)
  • Cost: $150 flat fee, which includes all TMDSAS participating dental schools.
  • Fee Assistance? No fee waivers available
  • Personal Statement: Two required, One optional.
    • Required: "Explain your motivate to pursue a career in dentistry. Include the value of your experiences that prepare you to be a dentist." 5,000 character limit
    • Required:"Learning from others is enhanced in educational settings that include individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Please describe your personal characteristics (background, traits, skills, etc.) or experiences that would add to the educational experience of others." 2,500 character limit
    • Optional: "Briefly discuss any unique circumstances or life experiences that are relevant to your application which have not previously been presented." 2,500 character limit
  • Application Timing: Students will apply in the summer of the year preceding their planned matriculation. TMDSAS opens in early May. Submission begins in mid-May. Students applying after Junior year should wait until their Spring grades are posted before applying.

Out-of-State Dental Schools (ADEA AADSAS)

  • Centralized Application Service: AADSAS - Associated American Dental School Application Service
  • Number of Participating Schools: 67 in the U.S. and Puerto Rico
  • Cost: $245 which includes one dental school designation. Each additional school is $99.
  • Fee Assistance? Yes, through the AADSAS Fee Assistance Program, which includes a waiver for all AADSAS fees for the first 3 dental school designations on your application.
  • Personal Statement Prompt:“In your personal statement, you will explain why you want to pursue a dental career.” 4,500 character limit
  • Application Timing: Students will apply in the summer of the year preceding their planned matriculation. The AADSAS application opens in early June.

International students in the US on a Visa without permanent U.S. resident status ("Green Card") often find  that it is much more difficult to enter a U.S. dental school than it is to enter a U.S. university or graduate school to study for a Ph.D. or M.S. degree.

Many U.S. dental schools give preference to legal residents of the geographic state in which the school is located. Eligibility for many U.S. Federal Government sponsored financial loans may require being a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

That said, international students are still eligible to many dental schools in the United States and Canada.

International students should review the admissions requirements and policies of the specific dental schools in which they hope to apply.

NOTE: At this time, Texas A&M University College of Dentistry is the only Texas dental school that accepts International or DACA applicants.

How do I apply as an international applicant?

Applicants who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. and/or who have earned degrees at foreign institutions can be eligible for admission provided that they have completed:

  • At least 90 credit hours of college course work including the prerequisites for dental school in a fully accredited college or university in the United States,
or
  • Earned a baccalaureate degree in a fully accredited college or university in the United States.

Texas dental schools give preference to Texas residents, who are U.S. citizens, U.S. permanent residents or who are in the process of gaining U.S. permanent residency by the time of dental school enrollment.  (Official documentation will be required at the time of dental school application and before matriculation.)

Additional Resources:

University of Houston Dental Admissions Data for EY2021*

*NOTE: The following information includes only applicants who designated University of Houston as their primary institution and agreed to release their application information to our office. Data includes TMDSAS and AADSAS applications.

  • UH Applicants: 85
  • UH Accepted: 36
  • UH Acceptance Rate: 43% / Texas Average Acceptance Rate: 34%
  • HPAC applicants vs. non-HPAC Acceptance Rate: 65% vs. 33%
  • Applicants from the University of Houston were accepted into:
    • Over 15 different dental schools, including every dental school in Texas.
  • Accepted applicants came from over 7 different majors.
University of Houston (EY2021)
Overall GPA Science GPA DAT-Academic Average DAT-Perceptual Ability
Applied 3.50 3.32 20 20
Accepted 3.62 3.48 21 21