Home Student & Career Tips How to Become A Dentist In South Africa

How to Become A Dentist In South Africa


This article contains information on how to become a dentist in South Africa.

How to Become A Dentist In South Africa

As one of the highest-paying jobs in the world, becoming a dentist is a commitment, so you’ll need to be prepared to work hard. Studying dentistry is the same as studying a form of medicine, so the workload is going to be extreme, as is the pressure. Modern dentistry has moved beyond the scope of the ‘drilling and filling’ of the past. Today, dentists manage diseases and abnormalities of the face, jaws, joints, and soft tissue lining of the mouth.

They offer comprehensive care for the entire oral and facial system Dentists provide services aimed at the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of numerous dental problems and diseases of the teeth and gums.

The work of a dentist comprises five basic components:

  • Diagnostic Work: This aspect comprises examination of teeth and the tissues of the mouth to diagnose diseases or abnormalities, injuries, malformations of teeth, gums, or related oral structures.
  • Preventive Work: This involves supplying the patient with information concerning the control of tooth decay, the causes and treatment of dental problems, the maintenance of oral hygiene, and the removal of plaque.
  • Corrective Treatment: The dentist takes x-rays of the oral structure, cleans teeth, fills cavities, treats abscesses and infections of the gums, and extracts teeth. The work also entails creating impressions of the mouth to make false teeth, crowns, and bridges.
  • Surgical Procedures: This includes the removal of teeth and the treatment of jaw fractures.
  • Administrative Duties: This also involves bookkeeping and the buying of supplies, as well as the supervision and management of a whole team of co-workers such as dental assistants, receptionists, dental technicians, and oral hygienists.

Dentists diagnose and treat conditions affecting the mouth, teeth, and gums. In addition to performing extractions, root canals, and tooth replacements, provide preventive care and oral hygiene advice. They typically use anaesthetics to help patients minimise pain during procedures. They also perform and examine x-rays of the mouth.

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Dentists use masks, gloves, and safety glasses to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases. They treat exposure to pulp by pulp capping, removal of pulp from the pulp cavity, or root canal using dental instruments. They also write fabrication instructions for dental technicians.  Dentists write prescriptions for antibiotics or other medications. Teeth can be bleached, cleaned, or polished to restore their natural colour, and fluoride or sealants can be applied to the teeth.

These professionals may practise general dentistry or work in a specialised area. Some dentists work weekend or evening hours to accommodate their patients’ schedules.

Dentists may specialise after a minimum of 5 years’ general practise in:

  • oral pathology: diseases of the mouth
  • maxillo-facial and oral surgery
  • Orthodontics: teeth straightening
  • prosthodontics: denture prosthesis, crown and bridgework
  • oral medicine and periodontics: treatment of the tissues of the mouth and underlying bones
  • Community dentistry: preventing and controlling dental disease and promoting dental health through community efforts.

Personal Requirements

  • Interest in science
  • Good business sense
  • Good concentration
  • Ability to inspire confidence and trust.
  • Good judgement, decision-making, communication and leadership skills; detailed orientation; manual dexterity and organisational skills, knowledge of dental anatomy and medical procedures
  • good diagnostic skills and visual memory, etc.


Prospective candidates undergo selection before admission to degree courses.

  • Degree: BDS or BChD (UP, UWC, UL, UKZN, Wits)
  • Practical and clinical work is done in the dental hospital attached to the university.
  • Dentists must register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa after completing the required training.
  • Further studies can be undertaken: honours, masters, or doctoral degrees for specialisation in a specific branch of dentistry.

Steps to Becoming a Dentist In South Africa

To become a dentist, a high school student would first need the following subjects, all in the higher grade:

  • Mathematics, level 5
  • Physical Science Level 5
  • English, level 5
  • Life Sciences, level 5
  • Chemistry,
  • Biology, and
  • AP Physics.

A minimum pass rate of 50 is required to enrol in a dental bachelor’s degree programme. Whether or not life sciences are a requirement depends on the university, but it’s good to have one regardless.

On the other hand, dental schools generally require applicants to hold bachelor’s degrees before gaining admission. Some schools may admit students after 2 to 3 years of undergraduate study and allow them to earn bachelor’s degrees as part of the dental programme. Although no specific pre-dental major is required, coursework in biology, physics, and chemistry can provide relevant preparation for dentistry school.

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Before applying to dental school, students must take the Dental Admission Test (DAT), which assesses academic capacity and scientific knowledge. A minimum score on this exam may be required to gain entrance to dental school. Dental schools consider DAT scores, grade point averages, interviews, and letters of recommendation during the admission process.


In order to become a dentist, you’ll need to apply for a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BChD) or a Bachelor of Dental Science (BDS), depending on the university of your choice. Either way, you’ll need to show that you are an academically strong learner in order to be accepted. Only the best can be trusted with our teeth!

The Bachelor of Dental Science (BDS) is a full-time, five-year course. During the first two years of dental school, students focus on classroom and laboratory studies in health and dental science. Courses may include oral pathology, periodontics, dental anaesthesia, orthodontics, radiology, pharmacology, and health law. Years 4 and 5 focus on understanding the medical, dental, social, and community context of dental clinical practise.

Here, the students diagnose and treat patients under the supervision of dental instructors.

Both of the options above are 5-year degrees, covering everything you need to know in order to become a dentist

Students are required to complete one year of community service after graduating. If you are registering for the BDS for the first time, you must register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).


All dentists must obtain state licensure to practise. Requirements vary by state; however, all states require passage of the National Board Dental Examinations. This two-part written exam covers dental sciences, ethics, and clinical procedures. Moreso, all candidates must pass a practical examination administered or approved by their state’s licensing board. States may also require prerequisites like first aid or CPR certification, a background check, or an interview.


While dentists typically serve as general dentistry practitioners, some choose to specialise in a field of dentistry. However, if you’re fully registered with the GDC, you can specialise further in orthodontics, periodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, dental public health, and paediatric dentistry. These are competitive courses among the nine specialties, approved by the GDC, that require experience. You can then apply for the award of the Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training (CCST).

Becoming a specialist entails 2 to 4 years of additional education and, in some cases, a residency of up to two years before earning a specialty licence.


The vast majority of graduates work as dentists in general dental practise, NHS hospitals, and community dental services.

  • You may also find opportunities in:
  • National and global health charities
  • Private hospitals
  • Teaching and education
  • The armed forces
  • Universities and clinical research organisations.
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For more information on further study and to find a course that interests you, see Masters degrees and search postgraduate courses.


Choosing somewhere to study dentistry in South Africa can be difficult due to the specificity of the qualification. Dentistry is not offered at many higher institutions in South Africa. Available courses are only found in the Western Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, and Gauteng.

There are six recognised bachelor’s degree institutions in South Africa, including the University of the Western Cape (UWC), Cape Peninsula University of Technology, the University of Pretoria, and the University of the Witwatersrand.

1. Cape Peninsula University of Technology

The Faculty of Health and Wellness Sciences offers:

  • Masters of Health Sciences
  • Dental Technology, Higher Certificate
  • Dental Assisting
2. University of the Western Cape

The Faculty of Dentistry offers:

  • Bachelors of Oral Hygiene,
  • Bachelors of Dental Surgery
  • Postgraduate studies and research
3. Durban University of Technology

The Faculty of Health Sciences offers:

  • Higher Certificate in Dental Assisting,
  • Bachelor of Health Sciences in Dental Technology
  • Bachelor of Technology in Dental Technology
  • Masters of Technology in Dental Technology
  • Doctor of Technology in Dental Technology.
4. Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University

The SMU School of Oral Health Sciences offers:

  • Bachelor of Dental Surgery, Bachelor of Dental Therapy
  • Bachelor of Oral Hygiene
  • Bachelor of Science Honours in Dental Sciences Postgraduate Diploma in Dentistry
  • Master of Dentistry
  • Master of Dental Science
  • Bachelor of Science with Honours in Dental Science
  • Master of Science in Dentistry.
5. University of Pretoria

The UP Faculty of Health Sciences offers:

  • Bachelor of Dental Surger
  • Bachelor of Oral Hygiene
  • DMed Otorhinolaryngology
  • MChD Maxillofacial and Oral Surgery
  • MChD Oral Pathology
  • MChD Orthodontics
  • MChD Periodontics and Oral Medicine
  • MChD Prosthodontics.
7. University Of Witwatersrand

The Faculty of Health Sciences offers:

  • Bachelor of Dental Science
  • Bachelor of Oral Health Sciences
  • Master of Dentistry in the branch of Community Dentistry
  • Master of Dentistry in the branch of Maxillofacial and Oral surgery
  • Master of Dentistry in the branch of Oral Medicine and Periodontology
  • Master of Dentistry in the branch of Oral Pathology
  • Master of Dentistry in the branch of Orthodontics Master of Dentistry in the branch of Prosthodontics
  • Master of Science in Dentistry by research
  • Master of Science in Dentistry by course work and research
  • Doctor of Science in Dentistry.

The South African Medical Journal (SAMJ) reports that South Africa has the least number of physicians per district, with many areas having limited access to specialists and subspecialists as compared to other middle-income countries on the ratios of medical and dental professionals. This shows that studying dentistry in South Africa is lucrative and can attract a high salary.

With the information contained in this article, I want to believe you have gotten adequate guidance on how to become a dentist in South Africa.

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