Studying Dentistry in Australia and New Zealand: A Complete Guide

Admissions

1/2/24

Dentistry has the power to transform lives. 

That’s incredible in itself, but it’s also an in-demand profession with fantastic stability. The stumbling block for many is the high barrier to entry as university courses are extremely competitive and getting in takes total commitment.

Still interested? Read on to get a full breakdown of a career in dentistry.

An overview of a career in dentistry in Australia and New Zealand, including study duration, ATAR requirements, cost and potential earnings.

Reasons to study dentistry

Pros of studying dentistry in Australia and New Zealand
Cons of studying dentistry in Australia and New Zealand

Is getting into dentistry competitive? What do I need and how can I improve my chances?

In short, yes. There are only 10 dental schools in Australia and New Zealand, with thousands of applicants eyeing a spot each year.

As a result, you need to think about your application holistically and prepare diligently to maximise your chances of success.

School grades

First, you will need strong academic credentials, such as an ATAR above 99 (for undergraduate courses) or a competitive GPA (for graduate courses). Prepare for your exams throughout the year to maintain high grades.

35 study tips to improve your ATAR score

Admissions test

Second, you will need to perform well in an admissions test. Learn how these tests are run, find out the best resources to use, and start your preparation early. 

If you’re applying as a school leaver or for undergraduate dentistry, it’s likely you’ll have to take the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT ANZ). The UCAT ANZ is a two-hour, multiple choice, computer-based exam. It’s known for being extremely time pressured.

Improve your chances of succeeding in the UCAT by checking out the following resources:

If you’re applying as a graduate student, you may have to take the Graduate Medical Schools Admissions Test (GAMSAT). Find out more about the GAMSAT.

Interview

Third, most universities require an interview. Your interview will be in one of two formats:.

Semi-structured/panel

You’ll be interviewed by a panel of interviewers. Interviewers will ask you a series of questions and may also ask follow up questions. Semi-structured interviews have a less rigid format and are more likely to ask questions specific to you.

Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)

You’ll rotate around stations, and have a new interviewer and new interview question or task at each station. This format is much more structured as you’ll have a set amount of time at each station and all students will be asked the same questions.

Reflect on your motivations for dentistry, do readings around common dental topics and issues, and find out what dental school and dental career looks like. 

Ask friends or family to help you out with mock interviews. This will help you become better at giving smooth and coherent answers. Interviews are always nerve racking so it’s important that you stay calm and make your answer relevant to the question.

Should I study dentistry or medicine?

Differences between a career in medicine and dentistry in Australia and New Zealand

How long does it take to become a dentist?

Becoming a dentist can take five or more years depending on the path you choose. A standard 5-year undergraduate degree in dentistry will allow you to practise once you’ve graduated. 

Graduate entry degrees are four years long, but you need to already hold at least a bachelor's degree to take this path. This means that doing a graduate entry pathway would take you at least seven years, and if you chose to do a masters or any other degree after your bachelor’s it can take even longer.

What are dental schools looking for?

The Australian Dental Association suggests that dentistry is an ideal career for people that enjoy specific activities. This means dental schools are looking for students skilled in those areas as they will most likely be able to become good dentists.

These skills include:

  • Excellent communication
  • Ability to interact with a range of people 
  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Ability to work both in a team and independently
  • Broad scientific and medical knowledge
  • Manual dexterity 
  • Hand eye coordination
  • Great spatial awareness
  • Leadership
  • Business management interest

Which subjects do I need to study dentistry?

Although there may be slight variations in subject prerequisites, generally you’ll be required to study Chemistry, Biology and English.

Subjects that are often mentioned include:

  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • English
  • Physics
  • Math

Do I need work experience?

Although work experience isn't compulsory, having work experience could give you an advantage at interviews. It’s likely that you may be asked some questions about your understanding of what a career in dentistry entails.

Work experience in a dental setting will enable you to show that you have a realistic understanding of what a doctor does. It’ll help you prove your point rather than make empty claims.

The golden question for interviews: ‘Why do you want to study dentistry?'

This question is central to most interviews. Dentistry is challenging but also rewarding so interviewers want to make sure you’re doing dentistry for the right reasons.

Here are the do’s and don’ts to acing this question:

Do

Don't

Talk about personal experience: If you had a personal experience that led you to want to study dentistry, discuss it and reflect on it.

Use clichés: Avoid phrases like 'I’ve always wanted to be a dentist' or 'I really enjoy helping people'. This may be the case, but it’s what everyone says.

Talk about your work experience: Mention something you saw in your work experience that spurred you on to pursue dentistry.

Talk about salary: It may be an incentive for you, but you don't want to come across as money-minded.

Take a balanced approach: Discuss the positives and negatives of a career in dentistry (so you won’t sound naive).

Disrespect other professions: Interviewers may ask you why not a dental nurse or dental hygienist? Speak about all other professions with respect, as without them you wouldn’t be able to do your job.

Back up what you say: If you’re going to say you enjoy hands-on jobs, tell the interviewer about a hobby of yours that requires hands-on skills.

Talk about family members in dentistry: This can influence your decision, but it’s important to focus on your own reflection rather than someone else's experience.

What’s the deadline for dental applications?

Dental application deadlines vary based on where you’re applying to. Different TACs have different deadlines.

The deadline is usually around the end of September but make sure you check each TAC’s site for information on deadlines. 

Dental universities: Where can I study? 

University

Website

Contact details

Charles Sturt University

Tel: 1800 275 278

Griffith University

Tel: 1800 677 728

James Cook University

Tel: 1800 246 446 Email

La Trobe

Tel: 1300 135 045

University of Adelaide

Tel: 1800 061 459

University of Melbourne

Tel: 1800 136 352

University of Queensland

Tel: 07 3365 8022 Email

University of Sydney

Tel: 1800 793 864

University of Western Australia

Tel: (+61 8) 6488 3939 Email

University of Otago

Average cost of studying dentistry

In Australia, dental degrees cost around $300,000 for full-fee paying students and $55,000 for commonwealth supported place (CSP) students. You’ll also need to pay for the UCAT ($325) and some tertiary application centres have a fee for submitting applications ($55-$210).

On top of that, if you’re moving away from home, you’ll have accommodation and living costs to pay for. Accommodation and living costs can vary based on where you’ll be studying. For example, accommodation and living costs tend to be more expensive in Sydney compared to Adelaide. You can use this handy calculator to work out how much your living costs and accommodation will be.

If you’re doing a 5-year dental degree, it could end up costing up to $440,000. In New Zealand, tuition fee for dentistry is $16,187 per year for years 2–5.

Is there an option to study dentistry part-time?

There are no universities that currently offer part-time dentistry. However, you can study some postgraduate courses part-time. 

Can I study dentistry online?

Dentistry requires a lot of patient contact. You’ll also have to attend placements at hospitals and other dental settings to learn all the skills you need to be a safe and competent dentist. 

This means that it’s not possible to study all of dentistry online. Although the pandemic brought a temporary change to teaching styles, it’s likely that the majority of your dentistry course will take place in a physical setting.

How to get into dentistry with a low ATAR

You can still get into dentistry, even if your ATAR isn’t that high. You have two main options before you:

  • Check if you’re eligible for any special pathways or bonuses (such as for rural/remote and Indigenous students).
  • Do an undergraduate degree in a related subject with lower ATAR requirements and try for graduate entry dentistry.

Dental schools with pathways

The following universities have certain pathways that can result in you achieving additional points, this could compensate for a slightly lower ATAR. You need to check each university's requirements in detail and how to apply to make sure you don’t miss any deadlines.

Charles Sturt University

Charles Sturt has a range of pathways including:

Griffith University 

The university has a rural priority access scheme for students living in RA 2-5. Students who have lived RA 2-5 for a minimum of five consecutive years or 10 cumulative years will have priority access to the course. You’ll need to apply for this via QTAC.

La Trobe

La Trobe has a range of pathways. If you’re eligible for more than one, the maximum possible adjustment you can get is 20.

One of the pathways at La Trobe is the Special Entry Access Scheme (SEAS). There are four categories for which you can be eligible for:

  • Personal information and location
  • Disadvantaged financial background
  • Disability or medical condition 
  • Difficult circumstances

You’ll be able to find the details of all of the above on the SEAS site.

La Trobe also has a Rural and Regional Student Access Scheme (RRSAS). If you live in an RA 2 or 3 area, you’ll have 10 points added. For a postcode in RA 4, this will be 12.5 and 15 points for an area in RA 5.

La Trobe also has a priority access program for students going to certain schools.

University of Adelaide

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Pathway
  • Rural Background Entry Pathway

More information about entry pathways is available in their admissions guide.

University of Queensland

The University of Queensland has a rural access scheme. You need to have lived in an RA 2-5 postcode, for at least five consecutive years or 10 cumulative years. They also have an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Admission Pathway. Click on the links for more details on eligibility and how to apply.

Graduate entry dentistry

You can apply to the following bachelor programs after completing a degree:

Charles Sturt University 

If you're enrolled on a course at CSU and you have completed a minimum of four standard subjects (32 credit points) with a GPA above 5.5, you can apply for the 5-year Bachelor of Dental Science. If you don’t meet the criteria to apply as a current CSU student, you can apply as a regular domestic student or (if you’re eligible) as a rural or indigenous applicant.

Griffith University 

If you are successful on the 3-year Bachelor of Dental Health Science, you’ll seamlessly be moved to the 2-year Master of Dentistry program, which will allow registration with the General Dental Council.  

James Cook University 

You can apply as a graduate to the 5-year Bachelor of Dental Surgery program. Your most recent GPA will be used to assess your application.

In 2021, a GPA of 5.75 on a 7 point scale was needed to be considered for an offer. This doesn't guarantee a place on the course however. If your course doesn't generate a GPA, you will be unable to apply.

University of Adelaide

You can apply with your GPA for the 5-year Bachelor of Dental Surgery. You need to have a minimum GPA of 5.0 to be eligible to apply. You’ll also need to meet the subject prerequisites which are as follows: 

One subject chosen from: 

  • Chemistry 
  • Mathematical Methods 
  • Specialist Mathematics 
  • Physics

And one subject chosen from: 

  • Biology 
  • Geology 
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

University of Otago

You can apply as a graduate for the 5-year Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree. You’ll be ranked based on a score calculated from the score you achieved in the first degree you took at university. There isn’t any preference given to the subject or degree qualification.

University of Melbourne 

You can apply for the 4-year Doctor of Dental Surgery. You will need to have completed a bachelor's degree within 10 years of commencing your Doctor of Dental Surgery degree. You’ll need to take an admissions test, this will vary depending on where you are based, but if you’re in Australia it will be the GAMSAT.

You’ll be ranked based on your GPA and your admissions test score. You can find full details of requirements at Doctor of Dental Surgery: Entry requirements.

University of Sydney

You can apply for a 4-year Doctor of Dental Medicine degree. Your GPA and admissions test result will be used to select candidates. The admission test will vary depending on where you are based, but if you’re in Australia it will be the GAMSAT.

University of Western Australia

To study the 4-year Doctor of Dental Medicine, you’ll need a minimum GPA of 5.5 and a minimum overall GAMSAT score of 55 with no section score less than 50 for domestic applicants.

Dentistry scholarships

Most universities offer scholarships to help cover the cost of study. Check the websites of the dental schools you’re applying to, to see what scholarships you’re eligible for. 

You can also check scholarship databases like:

There are also scholarship databases specifically for healthcare professionals:

There are also dentistry specific scholarships:

You can find lots more information on scholarships on the my health career page. 

Can I study dentistry abroad in English?

Several Eastern European countries, including Georgia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Armenia, and Romania, offer dental courses for foreigners. Studying abroad is becoming more and more popular, as the costs of living are lower and the competition less intense in these countries than in the UK. Tuition, too, is usually lower and starts from as little as $5500 per year.

Most of the above courses are taught in English and degrees from these countries are recognised internationally. Most of these countries also offer graduate entry dentistry courses. It’s likely that you’ll have to take a university-specific admissions test as part of their selection process, as there is no internationally accepted test. 

Another option is to study dentistry in the UK. As the main language in the UK is English, you’ll have less trouble interacting with locals and settling in. However, tuition fees can be very expensive for international students: they range anywhere from $64,000 to $90,000 a year. Accommodation, living costs, and utilities can cost you over $100,000 over the five years. 

What happens after graduating?

Once you’ve graduated, you’ll need to register with the Dental Board of Australia or the Dental Council of New Zealand. Once registered, you can work as a registered dentist. If you want to specialise, you’ll need to do further courses. These courses tend to be around three years but some may be longer and shorter depending on the specialty.


What should I do one month before my UCAT?

Graphic of calendar showing one month left

Keep practising! A month sounds like a long time, but time will quickly vanish. Set SMART  (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) goals such as reaching a certain score by a certain date or time. 

Niche down even further on your weaknesses – by this stage you should just be focusing on what you find hardest. Make sure you factor in breaks and days off into your schedule, as well as any important events which you need to attend.

Read the 'Good medical practice' by the Medical Board of Australia if you haven’t already. It will inform you about the different duties of healthcare professionals and how they should respond to different scenarios, which is essential for the Situational Judgement Test section of the UCAT.

Try Medify's Skills Trainers, such as inference scanning for Verbal Reasoning, to maximise your score (these are included in our UCAT ANZ Online Course). Make sure you've also completed plenty of UCAT practice tests.

The UCAT exam is two hours with no breaks in between, so practise at least two hours each time to build your mental stamina. You should also simulate the exam environment as closely as possible – this means treating every mock test as if it were a real one. 

For instance, you should sit mock exams at the same time of the day as your actual UCAT exam and ensure there are no distractions. By mirroring the test conditions, not only will it prepare you for what to expect on test day, it should also help to decrease any anxiety leading up to the exam. Otherwise, your brain has to process the ‘new’ way of completing the test.

What should I do one week before my UCAT?

Graphic of calendar showing one week left

At this point, you'll know the format of the exam inside out and will have practised the questions enough times to get used to UCAT timings. Don’t give up – keep preparing in an environment where you cannot be interrupted.

Remember, a lot of your preparation will have been done in the weeks and months before this final week, so be careful not to overdo it and become too fatigued. Your motivation may drop or you might ‘peak’ before the test. Your body needs rest too. 

Now is a great time to introduce or increase self-care in your regime. Whether it’s watching Netflix, gaming, or just running a bath, it’s important to detach yourself from UCAT revision from time to time to avoid the risk of burnout.

In this week you should also prioritise your nutrition and sleep. Eat well, do not miss meals and keep hydrated. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep in the days before the test by avoiding late night cramming or staying awake into the early hours.

If it puts your mind at rest, you can check last year’s UCAT scores, but remember that this is all about your personal journey and performance, so don't get hung up on that information!

What should I do one day before my UCAT?

Graphic of calendar showing one day left

We do not advise doing a mock this close to the exam. Revision won't help you much at this stage and can actually leave you worse off. Instead, use this time to wind down and get yourself into a relaxed state. This will enable you to perform at your best on test day.

Try to get to bed early and avoid things that can affect sleep, such as looking at your phone before bed. If you think that you will struggle to sleep on time, you could try doing some exercise during the day to tire yourself out. 

Exercise can boost your brainpower by oxygenating your brain, helping you learn and aid sleep. Plus, activity makes your body release endorphins, which can reduce anxiety and stress levels.

Make sure you double check your UCAT test centre information, the travel route to the test centre, the time of your UCAT exam, and so on, so you’re well prepared for test day. If someone else is giving you a ride to the test centre, it’s worth reminding them.

What should I do on the day of my UCAT?

Graphic of calendar circling today's date

You should start the day off with a nutritious breakfast and give yourself enough time to arrive early to the test centre to avoid feeling flustered, rushed or stressed.

Remember that buses and trains can be late and that traffic may be heavier than you had hoped, so allow extra time whichever way you are travelling. Find out how to choose a UCAT test centre.

Make sure you know how to get to the test centre – for instance you could consider taking a map with you. If you’re using your phone for directions, make sure it’s sufficiently charged and that you have spare data (otherwise you can download the map ahead of time to use offline).

On test day you will be expected to arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled test time to complete the check-in process.

You need to bring:

  • Your test confirmation email
  • Photographic ID from the approved list

When you arrive at the test centre, it’s likely that you’ll be experiencing a heightened sense of adrenaline. This is completely normal, but it could be helpful to learn some mindfulness tricks to reduce your stress levels. For instance, you could focus on your breathing to help you relax.

Don’t forget, during your test there are one minute introductions between each subtest. You can skip these, but we recommend using the time to mentally refresh yourself.

If you’ve stuck to your revision plan, and followed our advice above, the best thing you can do on test day is to try and keep as calm as possible. Take solace in the fact that you have prepared for weeks/months to get to this point, and channel any nervous energy into doing the best you can during your UCAT test. 

What should I eat and drink leading up to the UCAT?

You should think about your diet well ahead of UCAT test day. Focus on foods that release energy slowly (that is, which have a low glycaemic index, or GI) which will stop you from feeling hungry. These are ideal for UCAT preparation, as well as on test day itself.

Try eating protein and low-GI carbohydrates, such as meat or baked beans, brown (whole grain) rice or pasta, or wholegrain breakfast cereals or muesli. However, do not stray far from your usual diet on the day of the test in case you feel sick. You may want to try these foods out at the same time of day a few weeks in advance.

Be wary of energy drinks and coffee. If you’re not used to them then don’t drink them, especially in large quantities. Caffeine can acutely increase anxiety, and the sugar rush of an energy drink is soon followed by insulin slamming on the brakes, leaving you feeling worse than before. These products are no substitute for a good night’s sleep, eating properly and exercising.

No food or drink is allowed in the test room so eat a healthy meal before your UCAT test and ensure you’re hydrated. While you should make sure you’re drinking enough water, do not overdo it, otherwise you might need the toilet while the timer is ticking.

Please note, access arrangements are available if you have a disability, learning difficulty or long-term medical condition. You may be entitled to extra time and/or rest breaks, and allowed certain items, such as water, at your test centre workstation. 

What happens at the UCAT test centre?

  1. At the registration desk, you will be asked to show a valid photographic ID and a printed/electronic copy of your confirmation email from Pearson VUE. 
  2. You will be asked to sign a signature pad and take a photograph.
  3. You will be given a laminated notebook and a black marker pen. You may also request earplugs.
  4. Do not take anything other than your ID into the examination room. A locker or a coat hanger will be available.
  5. Go to the bathroom if you need to.
  6. Once the staff have prepared your exam, you may enter the exam room. You may be asked to undergo a body check (e.g. turning up your pockets and rolling your sleeves).
  7. The staff will guide you to the seat, or you may be able to choose your desk. Take some time to prepare yourself and relax. Your two hours have not yet started.

What is the UCAT test environment like?

This image shows a typical UCAT test environment:

Taking the UCAT at a test centre

There is no audio element to the test, but you can request earplugs to block out any noise that might disrupt your concentration. 

You will have access to a basic onscreen calculator which may be useful for the Quantitative Reasoning and Decision Making sections.

You will be given a laminated notebook and marker pen. Consider using these for:

If you require an additional notebook and pen, you can raise your hand and ask the invigilator. Although the invigilator will check that your pen is working before the test, we advise double-checking this to avoid seeking assistance during the test.

What happens during my UCAT test?

  1. Once you are ready, follow the on-screen instructions.
  2. Your exam will be in the following order:
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Decision Making
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Abstract Reasoning
  • Situational Judgement
  1. You will have one minute before each section to read the instructions. You can skip it, but this will not give you an extra minute to answer the questions. Use this time to give your mind a quick break.
  2. If you have any issues, such as requiring a toilet break, you can quietly raise your hand. However, your time will continue running.
  3. After your exam, there may be an opportunity to answer a short optional survey on UCAT ANZ preparation and the quality of the venue.
  4. Raise your hand when you've finished and the examiner will guide you out of the exam room. You need to return your laminated board and marker pen.
  5. Collect your belongings and leave the test centre.
  6. Your UCAT ANZ results will be available in your Pearson VUE account within 24 hours. You will receive an email with instructions to access your score report through your account. All results will be delivered to UCAT ANZ Consortium universities automatically.
  7. If you’ve achieved the scores that you desire, well done.
  8. Even if you haven’t achieved the scores you wanted, congratulate yourself for getting through a really tough process. You've done exceptionally well just to get to this point. Plus, you can always take the UCAT again next year or consider graduate entry to medicine – do not give up on your dream!

Do you need help preparing for the UCAT ANZ? Head over to our UCAT ANZ Online Course and we’ll get you signed up to guide you through the whole process.

We provide a huge bank of 20,000+ questions, 24 unique full mock exams, 40+ mini-mock exams, 50+ hours of video tutorials, and performance feedback. We've also upgraded our UCAT mock exams 13-24 and revised our practice question bank to enrich your preparation journey.

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