A Guide to Becoming a Dentist in South Africa

23:00 Monrovia 0 Comments


A career in dentistry offers the chance to make a real difference in people's lives, helping them achieve and maintain good oral health. If you're drawn to this field and want to practice in South Africa, here's a roadmap to get you started:

The first step is obtaining the necessary qualifications. In South Africa, you'll need:

National Senior Certificate (NSC) or National Certificate Vocational (NC(V)):

This is the starting point for most students in South Africa. The NSC is the standard high school qualification, while the NC(V) is a vocational alternative. Both qualifications serve as the basic requirement for entry into most university programs, including dental studies. Specific subject requirements may vary by institution, so it's crucial for aspiring dental students to carefully review the entry requirements of their chosen universities.

Furthermore, for dentistry, Mathematics is essential for understanding dental mechanics, bite forces, and medication dosage calculations. Most universities require Mathematics at a higher grade level with a pass mark of approximately 50%. Physical Science is also crucial for comprehending dental materials, equipment, and tissue properties in the mouth. Like Mathematics, universities typically require Physical Science at a higher grade level with a pass mark of around 50%. Additionally, Life Sciences provide a foundation in human anatomy and physiology, critical for understanding oral health and disease. Universities often require Life Sciences at a higher grade level with a good pass mark, recognizing its significance in dentistry.

Bachelor’s degree in dental science:

After obtaining the NSC or NC(V), aspiring dentists typically pursue a bachelor’s degree in dental science. In South Africa, this can be either a Bachelor of Dental Science (BDS) or a Bachelor of ChD (BChD) degree. These programs typically span five years and provide students with a comprehensive understanding of dental sciences, encompassing various disciplines such as biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, dental technology, and clinical practice.

The curriculum of a dental science program covers a wide range of subjects essential for the practice of dentistry. Students can expect to study topics such as oral anatomy and physiology, dental histology, pharmacology, dental materials science, oral pathology, radiology, periodontology, endodontics, prosthodontics, paediatric dentistry, orthodontics, oral surgery, and dental public health.

Clinical Training:

In addition to classroom-based learning, dental students also undergo extensive clinical training where they gain hands-on experience in diagnosing and treating dental conditions under the supervision of experienced faculty members. Clinical training typically begins in the later years of the program and provides students with the opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge in a real-world setting.

Upon successful completion of their bachelor’s degree in dental science, graduates must fulfil additional requirements to obtain licensure and registration to practice dentistry in South Africa. This may include completing a period of internship or community service, passing national licensure examinations, and registering with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) or the relevant regulatory body.

Dentistry is a constantly evolving field, with new techniques, technologies, and research emerging regularly. Therefore, dentists are encouraged to engage in lifelong learning through continuing education programs, workshops, conferences, and professional development courses to stay updated with the latest advancements in the field and maintain their licensure.


·         Following registration, you'll complete a mandatory one-year internship at a designated healthcare facility. This internship provides practical experience under the supervision of qualified dentists.

·         After completing their bachelor’s degree in dental science and fulfilling the requirements for registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) or the relevant regulatory body, graduates are required to undertake a mandatory one-year internship. This internship serves as a crucial transitional period between academic training and independent practice.

·         The internship typically takes place at a designated healthcare facility, such as a public hospital, dental clinic, community health center, or private practice. These facilities provide interns with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in various aspects of dentistry under the guidance and supervision of qualified dentists and other healthcare professionals.

·         During the internship, interns are exposed to a wide range of clinical scenarios and dental procedures, allowing them to apply the knowledge and skills acquired during their academic training in a real-world setting. They may be involved in diagnosing dental conditions, performing dental treatments and procedures, assisting senior dentists, managing patient care, and participating in multidisciplinary healthcare teams.

·         Throughout the internship, interns work under the direct supervision of experienced dentists who provide guidance, feedback, and mentorship. This ensures that interns receive appropriate support and instruction as they develop their clinical skills and professional competencies.

While the above steps qualify you as a dentist, ongoing learning is crucial. The dental field is constantly evolving and continuing professional development (CPD) ensures you stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in techniques and technologies.  Many dentists also choose to specialize in a particular area of dentistry, such as orthodontics or oral surgery, which requires additional training and qualifications.

Qualities of a Successful Dentist

While academic qualifications are essential, certain personal qualities will make you a more well-rounded dentist:

·         Dentistry requires precise movements and a steady hand.

·         You'll need to explain procedures clearly and build rapport with patients.

·         Diagnosing and treating dental issues often involves critical thinking.

·         Many patients may feel anxious in the dental chair, so a calming and empathetic demeanor is key.

Let’s talk Figures

Dentist salaries vary depending on experience, location (public vs private practice), and area of specialization.

·         Entry-level dentists

Recent graduates typically start around R400,000 per year.

·         Mid-career dentists

With experience and a built client base, salaries can rise significantly to an average of R800,000 per year.

·         Senior dentists and specialists

Dentists with extensive experience or additional qualifications can command even higher salaries.

Career Growth Opportunities

In South Africa, dentists have a variety of career growth opportunities that allow them to expand their skills, knowledge, and professional reach. Beyond establishing successful private practices, dentists can pursue specialization in various fields such as orthodontics, oral surgery, pediatric dentistry, periodontology, prosthodontics, and dental public health. This specialization not only deepens their expertise but also opens doors to advanced clinical practice, teaching positions at universities, and research opportunities in both academic and industry settings.

Additionally, dentists can explore roles in public health initiatives, community dental clinics, and government healthcare agencies, contributing to the improvement of oral healthcare access and outcomes at a population level. Furthermore, opportunities for leadership positions within professional organizations, dental associations, and healthcare institutions allow dentists to influence policy, advocate for their profession, and drive positive change within the dental community and beyond. With continuous learning, innovation, and dedication, dentists in South Africa have abundant avenues for professional growth and fulfillment throughout their careers.

Here are some of the Top universities in South Africa that offer the Bachelor of ChD (BChD) program:

·         University of the Witwatersrand (Wits): Located in Johannesburg, Wits University is a public research university and is considered one of the top universities in Africa. Their Faculty of Health Sciences offers a BChD program.

·         University of Pretoria (UP): Situated in Pretoria, UP is another leading research university in South Africa. The Faculty of Health Sciences at UP offers a BChD program.

·         Stellenbosch University: Nestled in Stellenbosch, this public research university offers a BChD program through the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

·         University of the Western Cape (UWC): Located in Cape Town, UWC offers a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BChD) degree. This program is highly competitive and enjoys a prestigious reputation within the dental field.

Dentistry offers a unique blend of intellectual challenge, practical skills, and the opportunity to make a positive impact on people's health. If you possess the necessary qualifications and personal qualities, this path could be a perfect fit for you. So, if you're ready to embark on this journey, start laying the groundwork today!

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