The first step to becoming a dentist in the UK is to study for an undergraduate degree in dentistry on a course approved by the General Dental Council. The dental degree will typically take five years to complete, though some courses may take four or six years.
The dental degree prepares students to become safe, competent dentists who can provide preventative and restorative treatments for problems that affect the mouth and teeth. Dentists need to be able to apply their scientific knowledge in clinical settings, and therefore academic ability and an aptitude for problem solving is key to the selection of candidates.
The Dental Schools Council provides information on how to apply to study dentistry, including the course types, entry requirements, how to prepare for an interview, and more.
Early opportunities to explore clinical academia
While the dental degree is focused on preparing students to become safe and competent dentists, there are early opportunities to explore clinical academia through intercalation, electives and research projects. Taking part in these activities during your undergraduate dental degree can be a good way to find out whether a clinical academic career would interest you, but it is not essential to make a firm decision about your future career at this stage.
Intercalation is an opportunity to take time out of your dental degree to study for an additional undergraduate or postgraduate degree in a complementary field. By studying for an additional degree, intercalation allows students to broaden their research skills and explore an area of interest in greater depth.
Intercalation is applied for during the dental degree and can be taken after the second, third or fourth year of study. Specific intercalation courses are offered at different universities across the UK, so intercalation will likely take place at a different university from where the student is completing their dental degree. From physiology to regenerative medicine, there are a wide range of courses available, both in specific aspects of dentistry and a wider variety of subjects allied to the life sciences.
On completion of the intercalated year, the student returns to their dental school for the remaining years of their dental degree. The result will be the award of both a dental degree and an additional degree, often a BSc or MSc. This opens up the possibility of later studying for a PhD.
To find an intercalated course, search the database of intercalated courses offered by UK universities.
Undergraduate dental electives are short-term placements where dental students can develop new skills, increase their awareness of social or cultural issues, and be exposed to different healthcare settings. They involve a period of , occurring in the UK or abroad, during which students can see how some of their learning is applied in real situations.
Dental students take the lead role in planning and organising their elective placement, meaning there is scope to explore a particular specialty of dentistry or something different, such as a research project. Equally, electives may allow students to expand their skillset outside of dentistry by learning a new language or teaching.
Alongside their role in educating future dentists, dental schools aim to continuously improve oral and dental health by advancing the knowledge base of the profession through research. Participating in research projects may allow dental students to gain experience of study design, data analysis and preparing papers for publication, all of which will provide insight into the work of a dental clinical academic.
There will often be many research projects taking place within the school which may require assistance. The researchers leading these projects will often advertise for volunteers within the dental school or wider faculty. If you cannot find an opportunity this way, you may wish to discuss your interest in research with your personal tutor, to see if there are any projects you could get involved with.