The theoretical foundations of competency-based education are described. Among these are definitions of learning in terms of the situations one can function in rather than the accumulation of knowledge or skills, and of professional growth as a succession of stages from novice to expert. Competence is the midpoint on this continuum where individuals are capable of practicing independently and of assuming responsibility for their continued professional growth. Dental education has functioned well at the early stages of this process, but the assumption that "more of the same" will complete the process is questioned. Also considered are the implications of competency in the political context of dentistry, in curriculum design, and for evaluation.