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Dental Career Paths
dental career paths

General Dentistry

Dental graduates can acquire additional postgraduate experience and training in general dentistry before beginning a general dental practice. The one- and two-year programs are in either Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) or General Practice Residency (GPR). The AEGD programs emphasize clinical dentistry, while the GPR programs emphasize medical management.


Dental Specialties

Application requirements vary, but all specialty programs generally require a DDS or DMD degree from an accredited dental school and high performance in dental school. Detailed information on hundreds of postdoctoral programs is available online through the ADEA PASS website.

ADA Recognized Specialties
For an overview of each specialty area, click here. A list of residency programs can be found on the specialty organization website.


Other Educational and Training Programs

Dental schools also offer training in various non-specialty programs, such as anesthesiology, oral biology and implant and preventive dentistry. Currently, the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) does not accredit these programs. See the ADA’s latest Survey of Advanced Dental Education Annual Report for a list of programs.

Master of Public Health
One may also consider pursuing a Public Health master’s degree program. For more information on MPH programs click here.

Read about two student's pursuit to earn a dual degree in dentistry and public health in this article from December 2013 ASDA News.

Dental Clinics

Dental clinics provide dental services targeted to low-income families, students and others who may not otherwise have access to good dental care. Clinics are owned and operated by governments, universities, hospitals, health care organizations and private companies.

State and County Public Health

State programs hire dentists to provide dental services in one or more multi-county districts. The county programs typically are offered only in heavily populated counties. Both types of programs emphasize clinical services, often providing services to low-income families, sometimes in the clinics referred to above.

Hospital Dentistry

Hospital dentistry typically involves treating patients who don’t receive their dental care through traditional channels, such as those who are medically or mentally compromised (e.g., cancer patients, AIDS patients, heart disease patients and Alzheimer patients), patients with emergency needs and hospital employees.

Dental Health Maintenance Organizations (DHMO)

In this model, the dentist works directly as an employee for the DHMO and receives a salary. For those new dentists considering a solo practice, the advantages include no initial capital outlay necessary, income immediately available, the stresses of practice management eliminated, no need for patient recruitment, and employee benefits provided. However, that income is likely to be less than in a successful practice, the autonomy provided in a solo practice is gone and patient relationships may be less personal. Both general dentists and specialists can work as DHMO employees. Job opportunities are more likely in urban areas. A DDS or DMD degree and a state license are required.

Consultation Dentistry

Most dental insurance companies employ dentists as consultants. Dentists review and process dental claims, determine recipient eligibility and monitor dental claims for fraud and malpractice. These positions are mostly part-time, and salaries are frequently per diem and negotiated with the employing agency. For information regarding possible positions as a dental consultant, contact the insurance companies located within the region or state of choice.

Academic Dentistry

An academic career involves employment at one of the 65+ U.S. dental schools. Preparations for a productive academic career require considerable research background and training. Participating in research while a student is a good start, and is often followed by further training in a postgraduate specialty program, a postdoctoral fellowship or pursuit of an advanced degree.

Dental school departments that represent one of the clinical specialties routinely require tenure-track faculty to complete a postgraduate training program in the respective specialty and be eligible to take the specialty board examination. For those interested in administration, a degree in public administration, an MBA or similar training is helpful.

Federal Dental Services

The federal government hires dentists, primarily through the military and the U.S. Public Health Service. Sign-on bonuses and education repayment loans may be available to qualifying applicants.


The Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard offer dental positions at dental treatment facilities located in the United States and in other countries. In addition, a very limited number of positions are available at some treatment facilities for civilian dentists not enlisted in the military.

U.S. Public Health Service

The U.S. Public Health Service employs dentists in the public health field through numerous federal health care agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, Health Resources and Services Administration, National Institutes for Health and the Indian Health Service.

Hear a students perspective on the value of externships and public health service in the May 2012 ASDA News article "Externships offer an opportunity to explore IHS careers."

Dental Research

A research career is pursued in a dental school, dental research institute, government agency or within the private sector. Most research related to dentistry takes place in standard biomedical laboratories, clinical research facilities and related environments. The National Institute of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Programs (LRPs) encourage promising researchers and scientists to pursue research careers by repaying up to $35,000 of their qualified student loan debt each year.

Hear a students perspective on choosing research as a career path in the October 2012 ASDA News article "The five-year track: why research is important to me."

Private Industry

Most private industry positions involve laboratory research, but a few involve clinical research. Options exist in both professional as well as consumer market-oriented companies. Many companies prefer individuals with research experience as well as another degree, usually an MPH or MBA. This is, however, not an absolute requirement, and some individuals enter this career directly out of dental school if they have a strong research background.

Government Agencies and Research Institutes

Dentists will continue to be needed to conduct research at various institutions. Graduate training is a prerequisite, which means that the dental graduate would pursue an advanced degree (typically a Ph.D.), involving a significant amount of research training. An alternative route to a research career is a research-oriented Master in Science degree in a clinical specialty program.

Other Resources

ADA Pacific Dental Services Heartland Dental


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