Dentists provide services aimed at the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of numerous dental problems and diseases of teeth and gums.

The work of a dentist comprises five basic components:

Diagnostic work: 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: Supplying the patient with information concerning the control of tooth decay, the causes and treatment of dental problems, 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: Includes the removal of teeth and the treatment of jaw fractures.

Administrative duties: Bookkeeping and the buying of supplies as well as the supervising and managing of a whole team of co-workers such as dental assistants, receptionists, dental technicians and oral hygienists.

Dentists use masks, gloves and safety glasses to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases.  They examine teeth, gums and related tissues, using dental instruments, x-rays or other diagnostic equipment, to evaluate dental health, diagnose diseases or abnormalities, and plan appropriate treatments.  They administer anaesthetics to limit the amount of pain experienced by patients during procedures, and treat exposure of pulp by pulp capping, removal of pulp from pulp cavity, or root canal, using dental instruments. The pulp chamber and canal are filled with endodontic materials.  Diseased tissue is removed using surgical instruments, and irritating margins of fillings and correct occlusions eliminated using dental instruments.

Dentists design, make or fit prosthodontic appliances, such as space maintainers, bridges or dentures, or 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 applied to the teeth.  They also perform oral or periodontal surgery to the jaw or mouth.  They plan, organise or maintain dental health programmes and produce or evaluate dental health educational materials.

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

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

Personal Requirements

  • interest in and an aptitude for science
  • good business sense
  • good judgement and a keen social conscience
  • ability to inspire confidence and trust
  • good concentration
  • good manual dexterity and good eyesight
  • three-dimensional ability, to judge space and shape
  • good diagnostic skills and visual memory

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science 
Recommended subjects: Life Sciences

  • Pass matric with a Bachelor's pass
  • Meet the admission requirements (APS) set by the university
  • All applications for admission to MBChB and Medical degrees are subject to selection.
  • Due to the limited number of spaces available, only a small percentage of applicants are admitted.

What to Study

Prospective candidates undergo selection before admission to degree courses.

Degree: BDS or BChD - UP, UWC, UL, UKZN, Wits

Duration of the course: 5 years full-time study. 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 completion of the required training.

Further studies can be undertaken: honours, masters or doctors degree for specialisation in a specific branch of dentistry.


  • private practice
  • hospitals
  • municipal clinics
  • industries
  • universities
  • research institutions

Further Information

Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) 
(553) of Hamilton and
Madiba Streets,
Arcadia, Pretoria
Tel: (012) 338-9300

South African Dental Association (SADA)
31 Princess of Wales Terrace
Johannesburg, Gauteng, 2193
South Africa
Tel: (011) 484-5288
Toll Free: 080 011 0725

Department of Health
Civitas Building, Cnr Thabo Sehume and Struben Streets
Tel: (012) 395-8000

Getting Started

  • gain experience working with people by joining clubs at schools, church
  • try to obtain vacation work in a dental office or clinic or other work dealing with the public
  • make an appointment to speak to a dentist about this type of career and ask permission to observe them at work

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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