There are various motivators that prompt people to study dentistry but there is evidence that the salience of each varies according to gender and black and minority ethnic (BME) group. Given the current focus on inequality within the science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics (STEMM) academic disciplines where dentistry sits, it is important to understand the relevance of different motivators to different social groups if inequality is to be overcome. We carried out a survey of dental students from 11 out of the 18 dental schools in the UK to find out what prompted them to study dentistry. Our findings showed that most people make a personal choice to study dentistry and follow a patient-focused career while the prospect of an academic career was important for less than half of our sample. Differences according to gender and BME group were apparent but did not follow these trends. In order to continue to improve the diversity within dental academia dental schools should consider the different preferences of the workforce and work to broaden its potential.