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Demystifying Dental Shadowing: How Many Hours Do You Really Need?

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

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Are you considering a career in dentistry? If so, then you've probably heard about the importance of dental shadowing.

But how many hours do you really need to spend shadowing a dentist?

In this article, we will demystify the requirements for dental shadowing and provide clarity on the optimal number of hours to gain valuable experience.

Dental shadowing is a crucial part of the application process for dental school. It allows aspiring dentists to observe and learn from experienced professionals in a real-world setting. By shadowing, you can gain insights into the day-to-day responsibilities of a dentist, understand different specialties within the field, and even build connections that may help you in your future career.

While there isn't a universally set number of hours required for dental shadowing, it is generally recommended to accumulate a substantial amount to

truly benefit from the experience. By spending a significant amount of time shadowing, you can demonstrate your dedication to the profession and gain a deeper understanding of what it truly entails.

In the next sections, we will explore the benefits of dental shadowing, tips for finding shadowing opportunities, and the key factors to consider when deciding how many hours to devote to this essential step on your path to becoming a dentist.

So, let's dive in and demystify dental shadowing, providing you with the insights you need to make the most of this invaluable experience.

What is dental shadowing?

Dental shadowing is the practice of observing and learning from experienced dentists in a real-world setting. It allows aspiring dentists to gain firsthand insights into the day-to-day responsibilities of the profession.

By shadowing, you can witness various dental procedures, interact with patients, and understand different specialties within the field.

Why is dental shadowing important?

Dental shadowing is an essential step in the application process for dental school. It offers aspiring dentists a unique opportunity to gain exposure to the profession and develop a deeper understanding of what it truly entails. By shadowing experienced dentists, you can witness the challenges and rewards of the profession and make an informed decision about your future career path.

Moreover, dental shadowing allows you to build valuable connections within the dental community. By engaging with dentists, dental assistants, and other healthcare professionals, you can establish relationships that may prove beneficial in your dental school application process and future career.

How many dental shadowing hours do you need?

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While there isn't a universally set number of hours required for dental shadowing, it is generally recommended to accumulate a substantial amount to truly benefit from the experience. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends a minimum of 100 hours of shadowing, but it's important to note that individual dental schools may have specific requirements. At Pre-Dental Advice, we recommend about 120-130,

The Bigger Question

When it comes to dental shadowing, we believe there is both a qualitative and quantitative aspect to it. Most schools have a minimum of at least 100 hours of shadowing a dentist, but what they really want to know is "Does this applicant really know this is the right career for them?"

What dental schools want to avoid is accepting a student into their program who realizes he/she hates dentistry. Your objective in shadowing is to decide if dentistry is right for you, and if it is, have the experiences to back up your decision.

The Quantitative Aspect

We already gave some rough numbers above, but let's break those shadowing numbers down.

Let's say your goal is to accumulate 120 shadowing hours before applying to dental school and you don't start shadowing until the beginning of your sophomore year of college.

Even with less than a 2-year timetable before applying (assuming you apply between your junior and senior years), you would only need to shadow once per month for about 5 hours per session to reach your goal.

Perhaps your goal is 250 hours and you start shadowing your freshman year of college, This works out to about 7 hours per month,

These numbers are definitely achievable!

Impact of Dental Shadowing on Your Personal Statement

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Dental shadowing can greatly impact your personal statement, a crucial component of your dental school application. By reflecting on your shadowing experiences, you can highlight the insights gained and the impact they had on your decision to pursue dentistry.

Sharing specific patient interactions, procedures observed, and lessons learned can make your personal statement more compelling and demonstrate your genuine interest in the field.

Impact of Dental Shadowing on your Letters of Recommendation

Shadowing experiences can also influence the strength of your letters of recommendation. When requesting letters from dentists you've shadowed, they can provide firsthand accounts of your dedication, enthusiasm, and potential as a future dentist.

These letters can carry significant weight in your application and provide insights into your character and ability to thrive in the dental profession.

Impact of Dental Shadowing on Your Dental School Interview

During dental school interviews, shadowing experiences can serve as valuable talking points. Sharing specific cases, challenges faced, and lessons learned can showcase your ability to adapt and handle real-life situations.

It is also certain that you'll be asked in your dental school interview "Why do you want to be a dentist?". If you've had meaningful shadowing experiences, you'll have plenty of stories to share when answering this question.

Ultimately, admissions committees are interested in applicants who can demonstrate a genuine understanding of the profession and articulate their motivations clearly.

Tips for Making the Most out of Your Shadowing Experience

  1. Be proactive: Take the initiative to ask questions, engage with the dental team, and seek opportunities to observe a variety of procedures.

  2. Maintain professionalism: Dress appropriately, arrive on time, and demonstrate respect for patients, staff, and the dental office environment.

  3. Take notes: Document your observations, ask for clarification on procedures, and note any memorable cases or experiences for future reference.

  4. Network: Build relationships with dentists and staff members, express your interest in the field, and ask for advice or mentorship opportunities.

How to Find Dental Shadowing Opportunities

Finding dental shadowing opportunities can be challenging, but with the right approach, you can secure valuable experiences. Here are a few strategies to consider:

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  1. Reach out to local dentists: Contact dental offices in your area and express your interest in shadowing. Be prepared to explain your motivations and willingness to commit to the experience.

  2. Utilize your network: Ask family, friends, or acquaintances if they have any connections to dentists who may be open to shadowing opportunities.

  3. Volunteer at dental clinics: Many dental clinics offer volunteer programs where you can gain hands-on experience while assisting dental professionals.

  4. Join dental organizations: Become a member of dental organizations or pre-dental clubs that may have resources or connections to help you find shadowing opportunities.

  5. Use our list of dentists to find a dentist in your area that allow predental students to shadow


  • Q: Can I shadow multiple dentists? A: Yes, shadowing multiple dentists can provide you with a broader perspective and expose you to different methodologies to treat patients within the dental field.

  • Q: Should I shadow a general dentist or a specialist? A: According to the American Dental Association (ADA) about 20% of dentists are specialists. Statistically speaking, it's likely you'll be a general dentist. As such, we recommend spending the majority of your time shadowing general dentists, but feel free to shadow specialists as well.

  • Q: Can I shadow a dentist remotely? A: Remote shadowing opportunities have become more prevalent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual platforms allow aspiring dentists to observe consultations, discuss cases, and interact with dental professionals remotely.


Dental shadowing is an invaluable experience for aspiring dentists. It allows you to gain firsthand insights into the profession, build connections, and make informed decisions about your future career path.

While there isn't a set number of hours required, investing a significant amount of time in shadowing can demonstrate your commitment and provide you with a deeper understanding of the dental field. So, start exploring shadowing opportunities and make the most out of this transformative experience on your journey to becoming a dentist.

Remember, dental shadowing is just one step on your path to dental school. By combining shadowing with other experiences such as volunteering, research, and academic excellence, you can strengthen your overall application and increase your chances of success. Good luck on your journey to a rewarding career in dentistry!

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