The Best Dental Schools in California

Home to a robust higher education sector, a diverse population, and some truly incredible weather, California is a dream destination for many students considering a degree in dentistry. Indeed, some of the highest-paid dental professionals anywhere in the country are in California, with dental hygienists taking in an average salary of over $65,000 per year.

Whether they prefer a world-renowned institution in a major metropolis like Los Angeles or San Francisco, or a small but prestigious program to experience serving a smaller community, prospective dental students will find what they are looking for in the Sunshine State. Many of these schools are not just the best in California; they are among the very best colleges in the world for aspiring dentists and researchers.

Based on acceptance rates, here are the best dental schools in California.

6. Loma Linda School of Dentistry (Loma Linda, CA)

Loma Linda University
Pobonana, Loma linda university, CC BY-SA 4.0

Operating under the motto service is our calling, the Loma Linda School of Dentistry brings together clinical excellence with a dedication to looking after every patient’s total well-being. Religious values play a core role in the medical education at Loma Linda, which belongs to the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s university education system. The dental school is internationally recognized for its spiritual emphasis and service to the community.

Students at Loma Linda can choose from a number of degree programs to earn a doctor of dental surgery (DDS) degree, a bachelor of science in dental hygiene, certification in orthodontics or pediatric dentistry, and many more. The Loma Linda University Student Clinics provide care to university students, by students, with close supervision from faculty members who are highly qualified and experienced. This gives students the chance to put their learning into practice in a real-world setting, with professional support close at hand.

Loma Linda accepts just 6.4% of students who apply. Admissions criteria varies depending on the degree program. DDS applicants will need to demonstrate academic coursework in the sciences, at least 50 hours of dental practice observation, and a minimum GPA of 2.7, although a GPA of 3.5 or higher is recommended. Incoming undergraduate students to the dental hygiene program should show 20 hours of observation and provide three reference letters.

5. University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry (San Francisco, CA)

University of the Pacific Arthur Dugoni School of Dentistry
University of the Pacific, Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0

Located in the heart of San Francisco, one of the most desirable urban locations in the United States, the University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry is a top choice for prospective students seeking a world-class dental school in California. Indeed, the school is nationally renowned for its humanistic education model that emphasizes respect for all and recognizes every student’s growth potential.

Innovation is another key value at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. It’s the only school anywhere in the United States with an accelerated DDS program that condenses a four-year study course into three years. Students also get the unique opportunity to start clinical instruction from day one of the program – a big reason that Arthur A. Dugoni graduates are in high demand when it’s time for them to start their professional careers.

While an acceptance rate of 6.3% means that applicants will need to stand out amongst the crowd, students shouldn’t be discouraged from applying. In fact, a key aspect of the school’s vision is building a student body that’s diverse and well-rounded across each of its individual programs. Applicants to the dental hygiene program should have a minimum high school GPA of 2.7 along with courses in biology and chemistry. 

4. UCLA School of Dentistry (Los Angeles, CA)

UCLA Health Medical Center
King of Hearts, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, CC BY-SA 3.0

Prospective students with a desire to practice dentistry and become a true leader in their field will find rich opportunities to learn and grow at the UCLA School of Dentistry. According to the Academic Ranking of World Universities, UCLA is ranked the #6 dental school anywhere globally, boasting a best-in-class academic program and faculty members recognized worldwide for their research, leadership, and teaching acumen. 

One recent example is professor Dr. Cun-Yu Wang, who led a UCLA research team to study enhancing immunotherapy treatments’ effectiveness to help fight cancer cells in the head and neck.

With 13 accredited postgraduate programs and 15 academic divisions, students will find expert faculty and a top-notch learning environment no matter their specialized interests. The Section of Restorative Dentistry trains students in restoring the function and appearance of teeth that have been damaged or malformed, while the Section of Dental Anesthesiology offers education, research, and clinical practice in the field of pain management. Students interested in how dental care and communities come together will find plenty to learn and opportunities to engage with local organizations within the UCLA School of Dentistry’s Division of Public Health and Community Dentistry.

Because the UCLA School of Dentistry is home to so many study options, it’s essential that prospective students carefully research their program of interest to understand exactly what the admissions committee will be seeking. With an acceptance rate of 6.2%, this is the fourth most competitive dental school in all of California.

3. UCSF School of Dentistry (San Francisco, CA)

Dating back to 1881, the UCSF School of Dentistry in San Francisco has more than a century of heritage providing dental education and impacting public health through scientific research. Today, the school trains students to develop the academic knowledge, critical thinking, and clinical skills they need to thrive: be that as a dental professional, in academic research, or in the public sector.

UCSF is particularly known for offering some of the best research opportunities in the state of California and the nation at large. As a leading research institution, the school brings in around $34 million every year in funding to further student and faculty research into essential subjects like stem cells, craniofacial biology, and head and neck cancer. Students interested in dental health beyond the United States can get involved with the Global Oral Health Program, a unique UCSF initiative addressing oral health issues affecting people worldwide.

The UCSF School of Dentistry is a top choice for students and has an acceptance rate of 5.8%. 

2. University of Southern California Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry (Los Angeles, CA)

USC Medical Center
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, CC BY-SA 4.0

Training future oral health professionals to excel in their field, the University of Southern California Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry is an elite private university renowned for its clinical education, research activities, and outreach efforts to the local community. While many students choose to study for their doctor of dental surgery, Herman Ostrow also offers distinctive specialized degree programs such as the master of science in biomedical implants and tissue engineering, and the master of biomaterials and digital dentistry.

The school’s history dates back to 1897, giving dental students today the opportunity to be a part of their rich academic legacy. Herman Ostrow graduates throughout the years have made important contributions to the dental profession: from Floyde E. Hogeboom who is credited with establishing pediatric dentistry as a modern specialization, to Anna M. Pattinson who is known for serving as Editor in Chief of the scientific journal Dimensions of Dental Hygiene

Each program has its own curriculum and admission requirements – but with an acceptance rate of 4.9% overall, capturing a place in any course of study at Herman Ostrow will be competitive. Expect to show prerequisites in the sciences, letters of recommendation from science professors, and possibly a letter of recommendation from a practicing dentist.

1. Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine (Pomona, CA)

Western University of Health Sciences
Ryan Hoff, Campus of Western University of Health Sciences, CC BY-SA 4.0

The most selective of any dental school in California, admitting just 2.1% of students who apply, Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine is the best school in the state by acceptance rate. This prestigious college boasts one of the country’s most innovative Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) programs, delivering a curriculum based on what dentists will need to know tomorrow, incorporating various educational methodologies within its state-of-the-art facilities.

Throughout their time at WesternU, DMD students can take advantage of extensive clinical experience serving real patients in the community, as well as interprofessional learning opportunities emphasizing the important role of every healthcare professional in reducing negative patient outcomes via stronger teamwork and communication. Along with learning critical skills in science and clinical methodologies, dental students are also trained in the business management side of dentistry. This training gives graduates the best possible foundation for entering practice and becoming a leader in the field.

WesternU receives around 2,800 applications to its DMD program and enrolls approximately 70 students at a time. Prospective students wishing to enter this rigorous and rewarding program must demonstrate to the admissions committee that they are flexible, well-rounded, and academically ready to take on the challenge. Previous participation in community education projects and pre-existing knowledge of oral healthcare are also a plus.