Dental School Letter of Recommendation – A Complete Guide

March 8, 2024

dental school letter of recommendation requirements

Perhaps your parents started calling you “the dentist” when you pulled out all of your own baby teeth. Or maybe you always knew you wanted to practice medicine but only recently realized that dentistry is the branch you’d specifically like to pursue as you explored your science and human biology courses in college. But whether a career in dentistry has been a lifelong calling or a nascent aspiration, applying for dental school is no whiff of laughing gas! You’ll need a bachelor’s degree (usually with specific prerequisite courses in the sciences), a minimum GPA, shadowing experience with an actual dentist, a strong score on your Dental Admission Test (DAT), and a few stellar dental school letters of recommendation.

In this article, we’ll provide general facts about dental school, steps on how to secure your recommendation letters, details on dental school letters of recommendation requirements, and tips on using the Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS) system of application.

Dental School Facts

Before you seek your dental school letters of recommendation, it’s helpful to know a little bit about the dental field. Dentists may choose from two types of degrees: a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree (DDS) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine degree (DMD). Dental school (which includes both coursework and clinical experience) generally is about four years long, or three years in accelerated programs. Coursework is considerable: students can expect to spend about forty hours a week on school work, practical learning and exams. Like many science majors, dentistry is a well-paid field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the average salary for U.S. dentists in 2022 was around $159,530 per year; dental hygienists can make around $81,000 a year, and dental assistants can pull in about $44,820 annually.[i]

Dental surgeons, orthodontists, and specialists like dental anesthesiologists or periodontists can earn even more – as much as $208,000 per year (though many specialty degrees require an additional two to six years of schooling). Although the student loans required for dental school can be substantial, acceptance to and graduation from dental school generally poses a significant and lucrative return on investment.[ii]

Acceptance rates for dental school can vary by institution, but in general, they are highly competitive, from about 2.5% at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine to 29% at the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Dentistry. It’s important to have strong dental school letters of recommendation because in general, dental school admission is fiercely selective, with only 55.3% of students being admitted during the 2018-2019 school year.[iii]

Dental School Letter of Recommendation Requirements

How many dental school letters of recommendation do I need?

The American Dental Education Association (ADEA) AADSAS application portal allows prospective students to submit up to four letters of recommendation per application cycle. While we suggest that you take advantage of this allotment and submit four, it’s important to remember that quality over quantity is important in the application process. It’s better to have three well-written, in-depth, glowing letters of recommendation than four generic, lukewarm letters in support of your candidacy for dental school.

Who should write my dental school letters of recommendation?

Many dental schools will have specific requirements for their recommenders, so you should be sure to check out the individual policies of each institution. Ultimately, however, you should choose letter writers who can speak to your specific skills and viability as a candidate for dental school. These will usually be writers who can address your professional, scholastic, organizational, and personal qualities.

  • A top choice will be a dentist that you have shadowed professionally – he or she should be able to describe your ability to contribute in a professional dental setting and provide personal details about your levelheadedness, punctuality, politeness, demeanor and general levels of responsibility.
  • Another two or three letter writers ought to be your former or current professors from college – usually professors in the sciences (biology, chemistry, human anatomy, etc.). These letter writers can speak to your intellectual prowess, scholarly acumen, and collaborative skills if you completed any group projects under their tutelage. If you’ve done an advanced independent study or practicum with a particular professor, they would be an especially good candidate to write you a letter since they’ll have one-on-one knowledge of your academic skills.

Dental School Letter of Recommendation Requirements (Continued)

  • An employer would be a next-best choice as a writer of one of your dental school letters of recommendation. Employers can describe your general levels of professionalism and responsibility, especially if you have worked for them for an extended period of time. If you’ve done any work in a health-related capacity (nursing homes, outpatient care, public health resource centers), your employer for that job would be especially suitable.
  • Any supervisor, mentor, or leader in a volunteer setting would also be a suitable choice for a letter-writer. Particularly if you’ve volunteered in a public health capacity, a letter writer who can speak to your personal qualities like selflessness or devotion to community service will serve as an excellent character reference.

What should my recommenders write?

Of course, it’s impossible to control what your letter writers will ultimately include in your dental school letters of recommendation. However, you can highlight important details in the supplemental materials you supply for your recommenders. If you know your recommender well, he or she may even ask if there is anything they should emphasize or elide in your letter, or if there are particular dental school letter of recommendation requirements you think are especially important. If your recommender does ask, there are also many resources available online to help write a stellar recommendation letter.

In general, here are a few tips about what to include (and what to leave out!):

  • Your dental school letter of recommendation should be general, not geared toward a specific dental school.
  • If you’ve done specific, relevant extracurriculars like the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP), be sure your recommenders know this so they can include it in their letters. Don’t forget about extracurriculars that demonstrate you have excellent fine motor skills, concentration, and manual dexterity – those twelve years of piano lessons and concert trophies might actually help you shine in the dental world!

Dental School Letter of Recommendation Requirements (Continued)

  • Your letter writers usually don’t need to waste time and space on your specific letter grades – your transcripts will speak for themselves. Rather, your professors in particular can address the specific types of work you’ve accomplished in their courses.
  • Instead of generalities, your recommenders should write about the specific skills and qualities they observed while working with you. For instance, if they know you from shadowing in a dental office, they can speak to your responsibility and practical skills. If they know you from a class, make sure they speak to any long-term projects you may have completed for them; they also may want to provide relevant details about their own course: (e.g. “In this advanced-level course on microbiology, students were tasked with [example] – these practical skills would be invaluable in any science-based career, and [your name here] completed this assignment with full marks”).

Six Steps in Communicating Effectively with Your Dental School Recommenders

As Shakespeare says, “brevity is the soul of wit,” and in terms of requesting a dental school letter of recommendation, he is certainly right! Various studies have shown that professional communication (particularly online) is most effective when it is concise, reader-based, professional, and free of extraneous writing and florid language (“more matter, less art,” as Shakespeare might say!).[iv]

As detailed below, you’ll send a few emails to your recommendation writers. With each communication, an effective approach to clear email writing is BLUF: bottom line up front. That is, after a brief, polite greeting, begin each email with the reason for your message (“I’m writing to ask if you would be my recommender.” “Attached below, I’ve included all of my supplementary application materials.” “Thank you so much for writing my dental school letter of recommendation!”). Sticking to the BLUF format will ensure swift and clear communication with your recommenders.[v]

Step One:

Select and approach your letter writers several months before your dental school letters of recommendation are due. The ADEA AADAS application portal is usually open from May to early June each year; as such, you should give each letter writer a few months to compose and submit your dental school letter of recommendation (so, late February or early March is a good deadline for this first step). Remember, the more time you allow your letter writers, the more detailed and well-considered their letters can ultimately be!

Dental School Letter of Recommendation Requirements (Continued)

Step Two:

Politely ask your recommenders for a dental school letter of recommendation. If you need to, give them a gentle reminder about who you are (“I was in your human anatomy course last spring and wrote my final paper on…”). Make sure you include the deadline for the recommendation in this request.

Step Three:

Once your letter writers have agreed to write on your behalf, provide each recommender with the information they’ll need to write you a robust dental school letter of recommendation. In other words, though your letter writer will be rooting for you, it doesn’t hurt to give them a helping hand. Provide them with your CV, transcripts, and personal statement. And be sure you don’t neglect relevant or impressive extracurriculars: for instance, if you’ve spent significant time volunteering in your community, it can reflect well upon the type of medical professional you’ll eventually become. If you’ve mastered an instrument or craft that requires manual dexterity, it can be helpful to note this for your letter writers, as hand function is an essential quality needed in dentists.

Step Four:

Give specific instructions to your letter writers about how to submit your recommendation letters. You may also want to provide details on how to access the AADSAS website (particularly if your recommender doesn’t seem very tech-savvy).

Dental School Letter of Recommendation Requirements (Continued)

Step Five:

About one to two weeks before your letters of recommendation are due, send your letter writers a “thank you in advance” reminder email. This email should be brief, and it should again include the due date for your recommendation letters. This email will serve as a gentle nudge to get them writing and submitting their letters on time!

Step Six:

After each letter writer has submitted their dental school letter of recommendation, send them an additional “thank you” to let them know the letter has been received by the AADSAS. If you are close to this recommender or see them on a daily basis, a small gift (like a $5 gift card for their favorite coffee shop) is also a nice touch to demonstrate your gratitude.

Tips on Using the AADSAS System of Application

  • When you’re ready, you’ll submit your letter writers’ names and email addresses into the ADEA AADSAS application portal. After doing so, your letter writers will receive an email with detailed instructions about how to upload your dental school letters of recommendation.
  • Once your recommenders have submitted their letters, you may not edit or delete them (you may want to gently mention this to your letter writers!).
  • While you do not have to waive your right to see your letters of recommendation, it’s good form to do so: recommenders can write more freely when they aren’t concerned that you’ll read what they’ve written.
  • If you are applying during a second application cycle, you cannot reuse your letters of recommendation. You will need to submit new letters of recommendation if you reapply for dental school during another admissions cycle.

Dental School Letters of Recommendation Requirements – Sources

[i] Salary figures are estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022 Occupational Outlook Handbook. Please note that these are averages that include median data from mid- and late-career salaries, along with salaries from entry-level positions. In other words, these numbers can give you a rough estimate of what you may earn by mid-career in each career.

[ii] “Dental School Debt,” American Student Dental Association, 2024.

[iii] Kowarski, Ilana. “How to Get Into Dental School and Become a Dentist.” U.S. News and World Report. November 21, 2019.

[iv] Boiarsky, Carolyn. “Effects of Communicating with Emails and Texts in Risk Communication.” Technical Communication, Vol. 64, No. 3 (August 2017), p. 194-209.

[v] “BLUF (the Topic Sentence Handout).” Carnegie Mellon University, Student Academic Success Center: Communication Support.