How Long Does It Take to Become a Dentist?

Are you considering becoming a dentist but want to know more about what it takes? How much school is involved? Do you need more than a four-year degree? These are very important questions to ask when considering a career in dentistry. Whether you are just starting out or have completed several courses already, this article will provide a basic overview of what it takes to become a dentist in 2021.


Before starting any endeavor, it’s wise to consider the “why” behind your wanting to do something. This is especially the case with dentistry because it is a rewarding career as well as a demanding one. Consider what draws you to the dental field. Are you interested in how dentistry works? The desire to help people improve their oral health? Maybe you come from a family of dental practitioners and you feel this is expected of you. Whatever the reason, by addressing these questions, you can be prepared for the hours of training ahead with purpose, which can make all of the difference in the long run.


If you want to pursue a career in dentistry, it’s important to understand the cost. Dental school is a financial and time investment, although, for many aspiring dentists, the benefits outweigh the cost. It is helpful to consider how you plan on paying for school beforehand, for example, and to keep in mind the amount of time that will be required of you. While you most likely are aware of this, understanding the financial, emotional, and mental investment ahead of time often means you are more prepared to tackle setbacks along the way.


In terms of actual timing, it takes most aspiring dentists about four to eight years of school before joining a practice or starting their own. Most dental schools require several prerequisites, including college biology, physics, and chemistry, before applying for a spot. After you have completed these prerequisites, the next step is to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). The majority of candidates take the DAT about a year before they plan on enrolling in a dental school program. After the admissions test itself, you complete the application, which can also include interviews, personal recommendations, and academic evaluations from your GPA and DAT results. Once you are accepted to dental school, the majority of programs take about four years to complete. However, if you are interested in a more specialized field like dental surgery, for example, expect several years of schooling following the initial four years. Each state has specific licensure requirements as well. Review the Massachusetts requirements for dental licensure here.

While the path to becoming a dentist takes time, money, and energy, it is a highly rewarding and fulfilling career. To learn more about the steps to becoming a dentist, your career options, and everything in between, contact Dr. Coughlin at

Do dentists need a business coach?

What goals did you set for yourself and your practice last year? Most small business owners, and that includes dentists, are often so busy trying to keep things from going off the rails that creating a plan and sticking to it is really hard without some sort of accountability.

A goal without a plan to achieve it is just a dream.

You may want to double your income, but how are you going to do it? What strategies are you putting in place to make that goal a reality?

This is where coaching comes into the picture.

A dental coach will help you set goals and stick to them. It’s a level of accountability that will help you prioritize what’s important and make sure that the follow-through is there.

For new dentists coming right out of school, coaching is essential when it comes to career planning. Whether the plan is to set up your own practice right away or work for someone else and pay down loans, the goal is to make sure you are always moving in the right direction and making informed choices. This type of coaching can save new dentists a lot of sleepless nights and set them on the path to success in the near, medium and long term.

For dentists who are already established, it’s important to set benchmarks and have strategies for growth – while positioning the business to compete successfully in what is becoming a very tough market.

If you are a dentist at this stage in your career, you may be wondering how you can ever compete against Managed Service Organizations and Dental Service Organizations. Corporate dentistry changing the business landscape. A dental coach will be able to show you how to thrive in this environment or prepare your practice for eventual sale. There are strong points to be made for both options. Making the choice to compete or sell is a personal one. And your coach should be able to give you the right information to make an informed choice.

Selling a dental practice is one of the biggest business decisions a dentist will ever have to make. This is especially true if the practice is your retirement plan. A dental business coach should be your first call if you are planning to sell. At this stage in your career, the goal is to put in place strategies and tactics to maximize the return on your investment and get the best price possible for your business.

As a working dentist with a winning track record in business for over 35 years, I’ve coached dentists at every point along this career trajectory. I can say for certain that it’s never too early to start.
If you want to talk about your options and discover how coaching can help your career reach its maximum potential, then send me a note and let’s schedule a short conversation.

Should you embrace corporate dentistry?

I’ve been a general dentist for over 35 years. Long enough to see the business evolve and change into something that would have been unrecognizable when I started.

In my mind it began with the expansion of third party dental insurance in the early 80s and the promise of more access for patients, more money for procedures.

In the beginning dental insurance wasn’t a huge expense for insurance companies to offer. Today between private and government programs somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of people are now covered under some sort of third party insurance program.

By those numbers alone, you can tell that there are a lot more growth opportunities than at any time in the past.

So it should be no surprise that as of 2016 corporate dentistry has become the fastest growing segment of the industry – growing at almost 40 to 45% each year.

This monolith of corporate dentistry can generally be broken down into two categories; Dental Service Organizations (DSO) and Managed Service Organizations (MSO).

What’s important for dentists understand is the relationship between DSOs, MSOs and venture capitalists or equity type firms. When a venture capital company or equity firm has dollars invested or actual ownership in these corporate entities, there can perhaps be a conflict of interest.This conflict of interest is brought about because in many cases, equity firms have a much shorter lifespan for investment. In general, dealing with the dental profession, the goal is to triple or quadruple their money in a three to seven year timeframe, before selling that business to look for other investment opportunities.

As a patient looking for dental care or as dentist looking to either invest in Dental Service Organizations, sell their practice to a Dental Service Organization or perhaps even join a Dental Service Organization, it’s critical to understand some of the fundamental dimensions that underlay the purpose and function of MSOs and DSOs.

On this point let’s be clear. A venture capitalist provides capital with the goal of turning that capital into profit as quickly as possible.

There are two ways to work with MSOs and DSOs.

The first is similar to a franchise model. In this case the dental office assumes the branding and processes of the the senior entity in the relationship and there are a specific set of guidelines, rules and regulations that must be followed to maintain the relationship.

In this case the public certainly knows who’s involved and understand what to expect from these practices.

The second group is a little bit more of a gray area. It’s the same type of corporate relationship with the dentist. However the branding remains unchanged. Ie Dr. Smith & Jones Dental Office stays the same.

The public doesn’t necessarily know the ownership and operating structure and may think the office locally owned, managed and operated.

In the end you’ll find the same pressures in each instance. Over time more and more efficiencies will be found in order for the corporate interest to maximize its return.

This type of business relationship isn’t for everyone. But if you want to be able to shake the stress of ownership and simply work as an employee these are certainly options to pursue.

Ready to Get Started?

If you are interested in learning how to take your dental practice to the next level, please contact Ascent Dental Solutions today at 413-224-2659 to learn how Dr. Coughlin can help.

Easy Ways for Dental Professionals to Give Back to the Community

As a dentist, you are a caring and compassionate professional. You care for your patients, your team members, and your colleagues. You probably worry about people from time to time, such as a pediatric patient going through tough times at home or a staff member whose spouse is in ill health. You probably also care a great deal about your community, but you might not know how best to show it. Here are 5 easy ways to give back to your community.

Donate to Charity

There are numerous dental charities, each with a slightly different focus. Oral Health America focuses on targeted oral health campaigns. The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry Charitable Foundation (AACDCF) rebuilds the smiles of adults who have survived domestic violence. Healthy Smiles Healthy Children provides pediatric dental care to children whose families cannot afford it. Research these and other dental charities, and then make a donation to the one that resonates the most with you.

Conduct a Free Community Dental Day

Whether you hook up with an organization such as Dentistry from the Heart or go it alone, a free community dental day is a wonderful way to directly impact lower-income people in your local area. Decide in advance which services you will offer, such as cleanings, fillings, and oral cancer screenings, and prepare for a crowd. You might also consider making it a day of fun with giveaways, lunch, and other exciting events.

Host a Food Drive

Food pantries are always in need of donations. Consider partnering with a local food bank to collect donations at your office. You can increase participation by giving a small discount or other reward to patients who bring in nonperishable foods.

Educate Schoolchildren

Help set up local children for a lifetime of excellent oral health by taking your message into the local schools. Prepare a short, kid-friendly talk on the basics of dental anatomy and oral hygiene, along with the role of a good diet in maintaining oral health. Bring some small, fun giveaways such as toothbrushes and stickers, as well as refrigerator magnets or other branded items.

Take a Mission Trip

There are numerous organisations, both religiously affiliated and secular, that provide health care including dentistry in remote regions. Seek out a group that fits your practice’s vision, and then take your skills to a foreign country for a few days.

Of course, these are just a few ways to give back. Don’t forget to tap into your own personal interests, as well as those of your team members. You might choose to build sets for (or even star in!) a play at the local community theater, donate time or money to a local homeless shelter, or sponsor a kids’ baseball team. Whatever you choose, make sure it feels authentic to you and fits with your practice’s mission, vision, and values.

Ready to Get Started?

If you are interested in learning how to take your dental practice to the next level, please contact Ascent Dental Solutions today at 413-224-2659 to learn how Dr. Coughlin can help.