Medicine vs. Dentistry: Which Career Should You Choose?

Medicine and Dentistry are both highly respected professions around the world. They have challenging and competitive courses and offer high salaries. However, there are many major differences between the two professions.

You should select a career based on your interests and skills, but it’s also crucial to consider factors like tuition costs, study duration, and work-life balance. We went into great detail on the differences between dentistry and medicine to make your decision-making process a little easier.

The Primary Differences Between Medicine and Dentistry

Medicine and Dentistry are integral parts of the health care system. However, dentistry doesn’t fall in the category of a medical field. Have you ever wondered why medical insurance does not pay for dental care? Because medicine and dentistry are considered two separate entities.

Medicine is a broad field that covers all diseases in each organ, whereas dentistry only deals with teeth. Due to this, there are only a few fields of dentistry and many medical specializations.

Your oral health is directly related to your physical health. Research has found that oral infections can cause diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular problems, and lung diseases. Despite this, oral diseases differ from diseases that affect other parts of the body.

ProsBetter salary
Career flexibility
Job security
Moderate working hours
Autonomy (self-employed)
Shorter length of studies
ConsHeavy workload and working holidays
Stress and burnout
High tuition costs
High financial responsibility in private practice
Competetive admissions
Constant changes in dental technology 

Length of Studies

Medical School:

It typically takes four years to complete medical school in the United States. After completing their respective programs, graduates receive their Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degrees.

The first two years of medical school are focused on pre-clinical work. By the third year of medical school, students can learn in a clinical setting under the supervision of physicians. Moreover, students take the USMLE Step 1 exam during their second year of medical school and the USMLE Step 2 exam during their final year. But it doesn’t end there. 

Students are matched to residency programs in a specialty of medicine after graduation. Residency programs can last anywhere from three to seven years, depending on the specialty. Residency programs in surgery are often longer than those in other specializations, such as internal medicine and family practice.

Interns take the USMLE Step 3 exam during their second year of residency.

Dental School:

Dental school is typically four years long in the United States. After completing their respective dental school program, graduates are awarded the Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) degree or the Doctor of Medical Dentists (D.M.D.).

The first and second years of the dental school curriculum focus on anatomy, microbiology, and physiology courses, including gross anatomy and dental anatomy. During this period, you will learn and improve your hand skills in the pre-clinical laboratory. In their third and fourth years, students move to the clinic, where they develop their clinical skills by interacting with patients. 

In the final year of dental school, students take the Integrated National Board Dental Examination (INBDE) to receive dental licensure. It is a single-part exam with 500 questions that evaluates your clinical skills through your understanding of dental and basic sciences.

There are 12 different dental specializations, including general dentistry, endodontics, and orthodontics. Dental residency programs generally last for two to three years. 

Admission Requirements

Medical School:

  • Undergraduate degree with a minimum GPA of 3.3 
  • Average GPA of 3.6 in medical school prerequisites (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math)
  • MCAT score must be 512 or above
  • Extracurricular activities — mainly clinical, research, and volunteer experience
  • Personal statement and recommendation letters

Dental School:

  • Undergraduate degree with a minimum GPA of 3.5
  • Prerequisite science courses (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math) with a 3.4 GPA
  • DAT score must be 19 or above
  • Dental-related extracurricular activities, such as dentist shadowing and clinical or volunteer experience in dental offices and community health clinics
  • Personal statement and recommendation letters

Acceptance Rate

Medical School:

In 2021-2022, the medical school acceptance rate was 36.29% in the US. According to AAMC, 22,666 applicants were accepted to medical school across the country out of 62,443 applicants in 2021-2022. There were 18 applications per applicant, indicating the high competition and low acceptance.

Medical schools have different acceptance rates, even though their entrance requirements are generally the same. The University of Arizona has the lowest acceptance rate of 1.9%, and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center has the highest acceptance rate of 15.6%.

Dental School:

In 2018-2019, the US dental school acceptance rate was 55.3%. The American Dental Education Association (ADEA) reports that 6,259 out of 11,759 applicants that applied to dental school were accepted. 

The United States now has 68 open accredited dental schools. Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health has the lowest acceptance rate of 2.2%, while the University of Mississippi has the highest acceptance rate of 20.7%.

  1. Cost of Tuition

Medical School:

  • Average cost of medical school: $54,698
  • In-state resident tuition: $51,464
  • Out-of-state resident tuition: $57,933 
  • Total cost of USMLE exam: $3,000 to $4,000 

Dental School:

  • Average cost of dental school: $62,808
  • In-state resident tuition: $50,234
  • Out-of-state resident tuition: $66,440 
  • Cost of INBDE exam: $680

Average Salary

In terms of pay, doctors generally make more than dentists. Extensive medical education pays off with higher salaries than the rest of healthcare workers. However, dentists are also among the high earners in the US.

Dentists start making money before physicians since studying medicine takes longer. Dentists and physicians both earn lower initial incomes during their residency programs. 

The chart below can help you understand the salary differences between physicians and dentists.

Neurosurgeon – $411,653Oral Surgeon – $246,326
Radiologist – $317,129Oral Maxillofacial Radiology – $121,497
Emergency Medicine Physician – $249,149Endodontist – $201,712
General Practice Physician – $160,125General Dentist – $140,220
Pediatrician – $158,072Pediatric Dentist – $201,218


Medical School:

Work-life balance is uncommon in most medical specialties since doctors usually have long hours and a heavy workload. One of the main reasons people decide not to pursue medicine is the demanding lifestyle. A doctor’s average day’s workload is between 10 and 12 hours, sometimes even more.

Dental School:

Unlike doctors, dentists have a flexible schedule that allows them to take time off for their wellness and social activities. Generally, dentists work in dental clinics with office staff and assistants. They are not required to handle unexpected emergency cases. In case of after-hour emergencies, they can refer the patient to other practitioners.  

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