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Dentistry is a small, well-known and high-status profession. In general practice, dentists perform tasks associated with diagnosing, treating and preventing disease and abnormalities of the teeth, gums and mouth. Dentists can also specialise in a number of areas, earning titles ranging from the familiar (such as orthodontist and oral surgeon) to the unusual (periodontist and prosthodontist) and the glamorous (forensic odontologist).

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Dentistry is a clinically focused career, requiring an aptitude for hands-on work and strengths in science and mathematics. Most dentists work in private practice, although some work in government services and a small number in the Defence Force.

It is a field of practice that has changed over the years. In recent years there has been growing recognition and more education options for allied oral health professionals such as dental hygienists and dental therapists (see the health services and support field of study profile), leading to changes in the roles of dentists themselves, particularly those in general practice. The dentistry field remains small but is expanding, with the introduction of a number of new dentistry schools in recent years, including some in regional areas to cater for the demand for dentists in country Australia.

For more information about dentistry careers, see the Australian Dental Association and Dental Board of Australia websites.

If you are interested in this field you may also consider medicine, health services and support, rehabilitation or nursing.

VET study in dentistry

The minimum qualification for entry into the dentistry profession is an undergraduate degree, which means that there are no courses in the VET sector that provide entry into the field. Keep in mind, though, that there are a number of VET courses that provide qualifications in dental assisting and dental technology. See the health services and support field of study profile for further information.

Some of these courses can act as a pathway into undergraduate study in field, especially when combined with work experience.

See the Career Search for more information about your career options.

Undergraduate study in dentistry

Courses and specialisations

It is worth noting that all courses are hard to get into and are also quite long (around five years). Course options include a graduate entry programs and pre-dentistry degrees, which, once completed, are followed by a postgraduate course before registration. This adoption of the US model, where undergraduates enter a general pre-professional degree and then transfer to a postgraduate qualification in their professional area, has the potential to become more common in the future.

As is often the case with professional fields of study, there is little variation in the content and structure of the degrees in this field, as they must all satisfy similar criteria to be accredited by registration authorities. In dentistry, the trend is usually to begin the course with some foundation science, progressing to applied dental science in the middle years, followed by a final year (or two) spent mostly in clinical placements. All institutions offering dentistry courses have their own clinical facilities for practical learning, including fully operational clinics open to the public in some cases. In addition, all students in their last semester or year should be in placements out in the community.

Admission to all courses generally requires a high ATAR and good performance in the Undergraduate Medicine and Health Sciences Admission Test (UMAT), as well as a range of prerequisite subjects and usually an interview.

Where to study

Undergraduate courses in dentistry are offered only at universities. Depending on where you live, you may find that you only have a handful of options. You may even find that it is necessary to locate to another state or territory to pursue your course.

See Degree costs and loans for more information about paying for your degree.

To find out how each institution performs in your field of study, see our Ratings section.

Career opportunities

Despite excellent job prospects and the highest starting salaries of any field ($77,633), many recent dentistry graduates were not satisfied with teaching quality, skill development or the course overall. That said, the situation does vary from state to state and from institution to institution.

The Australian Dental Association (ADA) has revealed that the forecasted shortage of dentists may be no more than a myth, noting that the number of graduates has increased significantly in recent years. The introduction of new dental schools and increases in student intakes across the board mean that newly registered dentists are exceeding demand. The ADA has called on the government to implement a forward-looking plan to deal with these increased numbers and find solutions to ensure that the most qualified practitioners are working in the areas of greatest need. The association has also raised the registration of overseas-trained dentists as an issue contributing to lower employment rates, urging governments to conduct a health workforce study that would ensure investment into training is being made accordingly.

For qualified dentists seeking work, the Dental Relocation and Infrastructure Support Scheme assists dentists to gain work in regional and remote Australian communities.

See the Career Search for more information about your career options.

Postgraduate study in dentistry

Courses and specialisations

If you are looking at postgraduate programs in dentistry, you have a few options — depending on whether you are already in the profession or thinking about career conversion. You will find that courses are available from lower-level courses such as graduate certificates through to higher-level courses such as the doctor of dental medicine or doctor of dental surgery.

Dentistry is one of the few fields in which most postgraduate coursework students are already in the profession and are enrolled in upgrade rather than conversion programs. There is a relatively high proportion (41 per cent) of research students in dentistry too.

Where to study

Choosing a postgraduate program should not be too hard. Like undergraduate courses, most postgraduate options in dentistry are only offered at a small number of universities — sometimes just one — in each state or city, so unless you are prepared to change location or study externally, you will have only a limited selection to choose from.

In terms of what to look out for, while all institutions offering dentistry courses have their own clinical facilities for practical learning, you should ensure that there is adequate access to work placement opportunities. In some cases, this may include fully operational clinics open to the public.

To find out how each institution performs in your field of study, see our Ratings section.

Career opportunities

According to the national Course Experience Questionnaire Survey, graduates of postgraduate dentistry courses were not satisfied with the teaching quality of programs or the skills they gained. Employment outcomes are excellent however, with only two per cent of graduates still seeking work four months after graduation. Graduate salaries are also in the five-star range, at an average of $108,263.

See the Career Search for more information about your career options.

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