Published on June 29, 2024

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How to Become a Dentist in the UK

Dentistry is an immensely rewarding career, blending healthcare and science with artistry and precision. In this article, we will guide you step-by-step on how to become a dentist in the UK, covering everything from high school grades to ongoing career development. 

A levels  

While a very exciting and fulfilling career, it is also a very competitive course to gain access to. Due to its competitive nature, it has high entry requirements. Most universities in the UK require an A in Chemistry and Biology A level. Some courses require an additional science, such as Physics or Mathematics. Some examples of specific university requirements are below: 

University of BirminghamQueen Mary University  King’s College London 
A levelsAAA – Biology, Chemistry,
and another subject
A*AA – Biology or Chemistry, one other science
(Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics or Physics)
and one other subject
A*AA – Biology or Chemistry, one other science
(Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics)
and one other subject  
GSCEs– Seven GSCEs
– A* in Biology and Chemistry
– A in Maths and English
– Six GSCEs
– AAABBB – including Biology, Chemistry, English and Mathematics
B in both English and Maths  

For those in Scotland, the entry requirements are slightly different. Most universities require 5 Highers of grades AAAAB and 3 Advanced Highers at grades BBB. An example of a Scottish Dental School is shown below: 

University of Dundee  

Scottish Advanced Highers  

  • 3 Advanced Highers  
  • BBB – including Biology or Chemistry  

Scottish Highers  

  • 5 Highers
  • AAAAB – including Biology and Chemistry

Scottish National 5s

  • B – English, Mathematics, Biology and Chemistry 

While A levels are the primary admission requirement, equivalent qualifications from other regions will be considered, with different entry criteria applicable. 

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The University Clinical Aptitude Test is a computer-based admissions test which is used alongside applicants’’ academic qualifications, personal statements, and interviews. It comprises of five sections each with different timings and questions:

Verbal reasoningDecision makingQuantitative reasoningAbstract reasoning    Situational judgement
assesses comprehension skills  tests ability to solve text and visual data-related questions  tests numerical skillsability to spot patterns and ignore irrelevant informationassesses the capacity to understand real-life situations and behave appropriately  
21 minutes
44 questions
28 seconds per question  
31 minutes
29 questions
64 seconds per question  
25 minutes
36 questions
42 seconds per question  
12 minutes
50 questions
14 seconds per question  
26 minutes
69 questions
23 seconds per question  

Each section scores between 300 and 900 points and the total UCAT score will be these combined. The situational judgement is scored separately with a banding system, and you will be awarded between bands 1 to 4:

  • Band 1 – you showed similar judgement in most cases to the panel of professionals
  • Band 2 – you showed appropriate judgement frequently, with many responses matching the model answers
  • Band 3 – you showed appropriate judgement for some questions but had substantial differences from the ideal responses for others
  • Band 4 – your judgement was substantially different from the ideal responses in many cases

The average UCAT score ranges from 2400-2600, however, some universities have a cut-off score where they will not invite candidates to interview if it is not met. The average situational judgement band is 2, with band 1 being a very good score.

Registration Process

To register to sit the UCAT, you need to create an account on the UCAT website and book your test. Booking opens on the 18th of June. Test dates are from the 8th of July to the 26th of September with the booking deadline being the 19th of September. It is recommended to book your test early so that you have a greater selection of dates which will suit you.

Preparation Tips

The UCAT can be quite daunting but there are some ways to make it less stressful.

Concentrate on understanding the structure of each type of question and section. this approach will help you identify patterns and develop strategies for different question types. Additionally, practising UCAT questions using question bans and participating in one-on-one tutoring can provide valuable real-time feedback on your progress.

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Bachelors Degree

Upon acceptance into Dental School, you will embark on a five-year journey to earn a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS). This comprehensive program is designed to equip you with the skills necessary to provide complete oral care, including diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases. Universities may vary in their course structures, but most incorporate early clinical experiences, allowing you to engage in hands-on work from the start. Despite these differences, all dental schools cover a similar core curriculum.

In first year, an introduction to clinical skills is essential. In some universities this is theory-based teaching and in others, students can take part in clinical activities. A base understanding of human anatomy and biological processes is also established and assessed.

In second year, students spend more time with patients and further enhance essential clinical skills. Further anatomical and biological teaching is also carried out and specialist dental areas may be touched on.

Third and fourth year tends to be when students are significantly more hands on with their learning, with most universities allowing students to take care and responsibility of their own patients. They also begin to manage paediatric patients in preparation for the diverse population they will be treating

In their final year, students are on the brink of becoming fully qualified dentists. They are expected to work in hospital-based clinical, treating a wide range of dental issues and patients. Most of their time is dedicated to practical learning and refining their skills through hands-on experience.

At the end of the five-year program, students are awarded a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS). Those who excel may receive a BDS with Honours or Commendation, determined by a specific formula unique to each university.

Registration with the General Dental Council (GDC)

After graduation, to practice as a dentist or dental professional in the UK, you must register with the General Dental Council (GDC). It is illegal to practice without this registration. To register, you need to complete an online form on the GDC website, providing proof of identity, certified copies of your BDS qualification, and a character reference, typically from the head of your dental school. The application process takes up to 10 working days, and you cannot practice until you receive confirmation of your registration. Additionally, you must have professional indemnity, ensuring adequate coverage for any claims or compensations throughout your career.

Now that you are a qualified and registered dentist, you can begin to pick your career path.

Postgraduate Training

Many universities offer postgraduate training for dentists. This can be specialty training, masters degrees, doctoral degrees, or postgraduate diplomas. An example of the courses that are offered in specific universities is shown below:

Kings College LondonLondon Dental institute
– Aesthetic dentistry MSc
– Endodontics MSc
– Fixed and Removable Prosthodontics MClinDent
– Maxillofacial Prosthetic Rehabilitation MSc
– Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopaedics
– Aesthetic and Restorative Dentistry
– Oral Surgery and Dental Implantology

Dental Foundation Training (DFT)

After achieving registration status with the GDC, if you want to begin practice, a DFT is a great next step. It lasts for 1 year and after completion, dentists are placed on the NHS Performers list, allowing them to treat NHS patients and receive a certificate of satisfactory completion of dental foundation training (CSCDFT). To be eligible for DFT, dentists are required to have achieved a BDS, be registered with the GDC and be eligible for an NHS performers number.

Application Process

Applications open in August and candidates must apply through Oriel recruitment portal and the application requires your primary dental qualification, any previous employment, and evidence.

After applying, there is a Situational Judgement Test, like that of the UCAT. It is non-academic and is testing professional attributes which are expected of foundation dentists such as, professional integrity, resilience, empathy, communication, and teamworking. It is a computer-based assessment and places you in a rank based against other dentists of that year.

You are then required to rank the job posts you would most be interested in. The practices then use your rank to select which dentists they would like for each post. Candidates are notified in January of the next year of their options and are required to accept or reject offers within 48 hours.

While undertaking this course, dentists are paid an annual salary. This is a standard salary which is the same throughout England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. As of 2024, this is £38,472.

Vocational Training in Scotland

If you are a graduating dentist in Scotland, there is a slightly different system, though it is very similar in its purpose. Rather than DFT it is called Vocational Training (VT) and is required for Scottish dentists to hold a Health Board list number and to be able to work for the NHS.

There are five different regions for VT in Scotland, comprising of Aberdeen, North region, East region, Southeast region, and West region. Candidates are required to rank up to 8 vocational dental practitioners (VDP).

The main difference between DFT and DVT is that in Scotland, candidates are not ranked on a Situational Judgement Test, instead recruitment is based on a CV and interviewing process. With applicants being allowed to visit their choices before ranking them. The salary is also similar with DVT dentists earning roughly £33,000 per annum.

Dental Core Training

After completing either DFT or DVT, some dentists choose to do dental core training (DCT). This is a requirement if you plan on specialising, but it is also a great choice to continue to enhance the care you can provide your patients.

Training lasts from 1 to 3 years, depending on whether you continue after Dental Core Training 1 (DCT1). After completing DCT2, you become eligible for specialty training without needing to complete DCT3. During your DCT years, you will be part of a large multidisciplinary team, gaining exposure to various aspects of dentistry. You will manage patients and may have the opportunity to focus on a particular field of interest.

Job postings will be listed on Oriel, and you must apply through this website. After applications are reviewed, situational judgement tests (SJTs) are administered, similar to the Dental Foundation Training (DFT) process. Due to the high demand for DCT1 positions, not all candidates are invited to interview; there is a cutoff score for the SJT. Interviews are conducted online and last 16 minutes. Candidates must rank their preferred posts, and selections are made based on their SJT scores and virtual interview performance.

Unlike DFT, there is no set salary, and it differs depending on region.

DCT1England – £40,257
Northern Ireland – £33,133
Scotland – £40,509
Wales – £36,009
DCT2England – £40,257
Northern Ireland – £35,298
Scotland – £41,029
Wales – £38,218
DCT3England – £51,017
Northern Ireland – £37,466
Scotland – £43,272
Wales – £40,429

Upon completion of DCT, dentists may continue to work in practice, potentially in mixed part time work of hospitals and dental practices. Or they may apply for specialist training.

Specialist training

Some dentists wish to further specialise in an area of their interest. Some of these are listed below:

  • Orthodontics
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics
  • Endodontics
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery
  • Oral medicine
  • Oral pathology
  • Oral microbiology
  • Paediatric dentistry
  • Restorative dentistry
  • Special care dentistry
  • Dental and maxillofacial radiology

To apply, you must have GDC registration and have successfully completed Dental Foundation Training (DFT) or Dental Vocational Training (DVT). Additionally, you must have completed both DCT1 and DCT2, with evidence to support this.

Applications are submitted through Oriel and must include a comprehensive portfolio of evidence. Applicants are shortlisted and invited to online interviews, which may have varying structures. Each interview panel member scores applicants individually, with the final score being the average of these scores. Like other training programs, applicants must rank their preferences, and these preferences, along with their scores, will determine their assigned posts. Offers will be communicated through Oriel.

During specialist training, dentists will be earning a higher salary than other training posts. This varies throughout the UK and ranges from £55,329 – £63152.

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Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

No matter what path you decide to take in your career, the GDC requires that all dental professionals keep up to date with their knowledge and the constant evolution of the field of dentistry. There is a minimum requirement of hours to be completed in a 5 year cycle and a minimum of 10 hours every 2 years.

  • Dentists – 100 hours every five year cycle
    • Dental therapists, dental hygienists, orthodontic therapists and clinical dental technicians – 75 hours
    • Dental nurses and dental technicians – 50 hours
    • Temporary registrants – 20 hours

To record these hours, dental professionals are required to maintain a personal development plan and link any activities undertaken to their development outcomes. They must also keep all CPD certificates as evidence. Below is an example of how best to structure CPD hours.

Source: General Dental Council

Membership Examinations

An additional international exam is available to all dentists, designed to demonstrate advanced knowledge in general dentistry beyond that of a recent graduate. Successful candidates are awarded the Diploma of Primary Care Dentistry. While this diploma is not a licence to practice, it can enhance portfolios and support career progression.


  • 5 years of undergraduate training = qualified dentist

  • 1-5 years pf potential postgraduate = additional degree

  • 1 yar DFT or DVT = eligible to practise in NHS

  • 1-3 years of DCT = well rounded dental professional and eligible for specialty training

  • 3-5 years specialty training = specialist dentist

Overall 6-19 years depending on what you would like to do but after 5 years you begin to earn a salary.

    • General dentist (family dentist)

    • Orthodontist

    • Paediatric dentist

    • Periodontist

    • Endodontist

    • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon

    • Prosthodontist

    • Oral Pathologist

    • Oral Radiologist

    • Cosmetic Dentist

    • Public Health Dentist

    • Dental Anaesthesiologist

    • Manual dexterity

    • Communication skills

    • Problem solving skills

    • Attention to detail

    • Interpersonal skills

    • Leadership skills

    • Time management

    • Ethical judgement

    • Adaptability

    • Continuous learning

    • Empathy and compassion

All these skills can be developed through dental education, with jobs, hobbies, or volunteering. This is why it is useful to have these before you are invited to interview as you can draw on past experiences within them which have helped you to develop skills.

    • Educational requirements – highly competitive course requiring high grades in A level or equivalent

    • Registration with GDC – can be a lengthy process but is essential to practice

    • Clinical experience – after obtaining a degree and registering with the GDC – dentists are required to complete additional training

    • Continued professional development – must complete a certain number of hours to remain a registered dental professional

    • Overseas qualifications – any dentist who qualified outside of the UK must have their qualifications assessed by the GDC

    • Specialist training – dentists who want to specialise in a specific area must undergo additional training and obtain a further qualification

    • Adherence to strict GDC standards – dentists must adhere to the GDC standards for patient health otherwise patients are within their rights to seek compensation.

Tuition fees – typically around £9,250 for UK residents – £20,000 – £40,000 per year for international students – or £0 through SAAS for Scottish universities

Living expenses – accommodation ranges from £5,000 – £8,000 per year

Registration with GDC – £890 – for overseas registration exam – £5,858

Foundation training (DFT) – free of charge and paid

  • Estimated total cost for UK students – over 5 years
    • Tuition fees – £46250
    • Living expenses £25000 – £40000
    • GDC – £890
  • Estimated total cost for international students
    • Tuition fees – £100000- £200000
    • Living expenses – £20000 – £40000
    • ORE exam – £2929 – £5858
  • Specialist training costs
    • Roughly £10000 – £20000 per year
    • GDC specialist registration fee – £345

While it is very costly, you begin to earn almost immediately after graduating and can use student loans during the course.

    • General dentists
      • NHS associates – £30000 – £60000NHS practise owners – £70000 – £100000Private associates – £50000 – £100000

        • Private practise owners – £100000 – £150000

    • Specialist dentists – £70000 – £120000

    • Hospital dentists
      • Dentists in training – £40000 – £55000

        • Consultants – £80000 – £100000 or more depending on their seniority and specialisation

    • Community dentists
        • Community dental officers – £45000 – £80000

    • Academic dentists
        • Lecturers and researchers – £40000 – £75000
        • Private practise owners – £100000 – £150000

All of these figures are depending on varying factors such as; job regions, companies and specific specialties.


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