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Dentists and Dental Assistants

Job Prospects

Job Prospects... At a glance

The job market for dentists in New Zealand is getting more competitive. In recent years, there has been a relative increase in the number of dentists; some dentists, for example, have returned to New Zealand because of limited opportunities overseas. Countering this is that only a limited number of people are accepted into dental school each year.

But, there are opportunities in provincial areas where there is a particular need for dentists. Looking out further, New Zealand’s ageing population is likely to increase future demand for dentists.

How to become a dentist

What they do

Dentists treat problems (including diseases and injuries) with teeth, mouth, gums and jaw. They also educate patients on how to avoid oral health problems.

Dental assistants help dental practitioners and therapists by preparing patients and assisting them in the care for patients.

Their tasks may include:

  • diagnosing dental diseases using a range of methods such as radiographs, salivary tests and medical histories
  • providing preventative oral health care such as periodontal treatments, fluoride applications and oral health promotion
  • providing restorative oral care such as implants, complex crown and bridge restorations, and orthodontics, and repairing damaged and decayed teeth
  • providing oral surgical treatments such as biopsy of tissue and prescription of medication
  • performing routine orthodontic treatment
  • restoring oral function with removable and fixed oral prostheses
  • assisting in diagnosing general diseases having oral manifestations such as diabetes
  • educating patients to take care of their mouth and teeth
  • leading a dental team which may comprise Dental Hygienists, Dental Therapists, Dental Assistants and other Dental Specialists


  • providing educational programs to motivate children, parents and the community in matters relating to oral health
  • providing fluoride therapy by applying remineralising solutions and desensitising agents
  • removing deposits from teeth
  • applying non-invasive fissure sealants to teeth
  • taking impressions of the mouth
  • taking dental radiographs
  • administering local anaesthesia by infiltration and mandibular nerve block
  • fabricating full and partial dentures
  • constructing mouth guards, crowns, metal clasps, inlays, bridgework and other aids
  • repairing and relining denture bases.


Qualifications needed

To become a dentist, you need to have a Bachelor of Dental Surgery or an equivalent overseas qualification that is recognised by the New Zealand Dental Council.

Dental Council, Dentistry Scope of Practice:

You need to have NCEA Level 3 to begin relevant tertiary training. Useful subjects include maths with calculus and/or statistics, chemistry, physics, biology and English.

Entry requirements to the Bachelor of Dental Surgery are high, with only a limited number of people accepted each year.

Entry into the dentistry degree is based on:

  • academic performance in the Health Sciences First Year programme at the University of Otago
  • an interview and tests with the University of Otago’s Dental Admissions Committee.

There are no formal entry requirements to work as a dental assistant. Once employed, dental assistants can complete the New Zealand Dental Association Certificate in Dental Assisting.

In order to be an orthodontic auxiliary, dental therapist, dental hygienist or dental technician you need to complete the required qualification and hold an annual practising certificate from the Dental Council of New Zealand.

Cost of study

Bachelor of Dental Surgery
$70,000 over five years


Average costs in 2018 for a domestic student. Costs vary between institutions. First time students may be eligible for fees-free
tertiary education for their first year of study, which will reduce the total cost. For more information about fees-free eligibility, go to Further costs include materials, textbooks, and accommodation.

Rents vary from place to place. Estimated market rents by region, city and suburb are available on the MBIE Tenancy Services website.

The StudyLink website provides general budget advice for students, and the Sorted website provides help with detailed budget planning.

Tenancy Services:

Where to study

The University of Otago is the only institution in New Zealand that offers the Bachelor of Dental Surgery.

The New Zealand Dental Association Certificate in Dental Assisting can be completed as on-the-job training from anywhere in New Zealand.

University of Otago, Bachelor of Dental Surgery:

NZDA, dental assisting courses:


Dentists, dental therapists, dental hygienists, dental technicians and orthodontic auxiliaries need to be registered with the Dental Council of New Zealand and have a current Annual Practising Certificate.

Dental Council, Registration: on registration
Dental Council, Annual Practising Certificate:

Completed qualifications

The number of students who completed a bachelor’s degree in dental studies has been between 150 and 200 in recent years.

 Qualification completions chart

Source: Ministry of Education

Income and employment prospects


Dentists’ income varies depending on experience, location, and size of their practice. Dentists with one to two years' experience usually earn between $65,000 and $80,000. Those with three to five years' experience have incomes ranging between $80,000 and $120,000. Dentists with more than five years' experience have incomes of up to $150,000.

Qualified dental specialists working for a district health board have incomes ranging between $150,000 and $212,000.

Sources: Emigrate New Zealand; Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS), '2013 to 2016 National DHB Collective Agreement (MECA)', 2013.

In 2019, the average income for dentists and dental assistants was estimated to be around $62,400. The average income for dentists is much higher than for dental assistants.

Estimated Average Income

Source: MBIE estimates based on Statistics NZ Census and Labour Cost Index

Employment and skill shortages

Dentists and dental assistants’ employment

HistoricProjected Growth
2006 2013 2023 2028
4,962 5,688 6,500 6,970
  2.0% 2.2% 1.2%

Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections. Percentages are compound annual growth rates.
*Growth projections are for the broader category of "Health Therapy Professionals”.

The number of dentists and dental assistants grew about 2% per year between 2006 and 2013. The number of dentists and dental assistants is projected to grow by around 2.2% per year until 2023, and 1.2% out to 2028. Employment growth in this occupation depends on the demand for the services offered by dentists and the supply of dentists.

Employment chart

Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections

The job of dentist appears on Immigration New Zealand's immediate skill shortage list (for the regions Waikato/Bay of Plenty, Central North Island, Wellington, Canterbury/ Upper South Island, Otago/Southland), which means the government is actively encouraging skilled and experienced dentists from overseas to work in New Zealand. There is a particular need for dentists in the provincial areas of New Zealand.

The occupation dental technician is also on the immediate skill shortage list (all regions).

Immigration NZ, skill shortage list:

Where to find job vacancies

Dentist vacancies are advertised through public media such as the Trade Me Jobs, Seek, and Kiwi Health Jobs websites, and through the New Zealand Dental Association (NZDA - the professional association representing most dentists in New Zealand).

Trade Me Jobs:
Kiwi Health Jobs:

Career path

Many dentists start their own practice once their training is complete. As dentists gain experience and seniority, they may be given managerial responsibility, or be responsible for more difficult procedures.

Dentists may specialise in a range of specialties, such as orthodontists, periodontists, and endodontists, which require further postgraduate training. To specialise in an area, you need to complete postgraduate study at the University of Otago. You will also need to be registered with the Dental Council of New Zealand.

Dental assistants get qualifications and become orthodontist auxiliaries.

Related occupations

The following occupations are related roles or alternative titles. Some of the roles may require a higher level of skill than entry-level dentists and dental assistants.

  • Dental Hygienist
  • Dental Technician
  • Dental Therapist

Other information


More information on dentists and dental assistants is available on the websites of Careers New Zealand and the Dental Council and through the "Just the Job" video.

Careers New Zealand:
Dental Council:
Just the Job video clip: A Career in Dentistry and Oral Health


The Australian New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) is the official classification of occupations in New Zealand.

The occupation of dentists and dental assistants has been coded to the following ANZSCO codes for the purpose of this report:

2523 – Dental Practitioners
4112 – Dental Hygienists, Technicians and Therapists
4232 – Dental Assistants