to the 2015-2016 ADEA Official
Guide to Dental Schools, more than 20 dental
schools in the United States and Canada offer dual or additional programs for
dental students to pursue Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) degrees. However, it
wasn’t until my second year in dental school that I learned about the
opportunity to pursue a dual degree D.D.S./M.P.H and explored the career
options for someone interested in public health and dentistry.
health? Public health promotes and
protects the health of people and communities where they live, learn, work and
play. While health care providers often work to treat diseases, for example by
completing fillings or extracting teeth in traditional clinical dentistry,
public health focuses more intensely on preventing diseases. Dental public
health is a recognized specialty in dentistry where specialists focus on
preventing oral diseases in communities through outreach, education, research
As a first year dental
student, I was very interested in improving the oral health of the underserved.
I spent much of my extra-curricular time volunteering in free dental clinics
and promoting oral health in my community. While I loved starting to treat
patients in my second year of dental school, I was also interested in how I
could become involved in programs that affect the oral health of individuals
outside of the dental office. During my third year of dental school, I applied
to an M.P.H. program and was accepted. While it was a very difficult decision
to take a gap year between my third and fourth years of dental school to
complete my M.P.H., it was one of the most rewarding experiences. I did not
regret my decision!
While completing a degree
in public health, I gained knowledge and experience outside of clinical
dentistry. Public health curriculum includes courses in
biostatics, epidemiology, environmental health, health management, health
policy, ethics and social and behavioral sciences. I learned how health policy
decisions are made on state and federal levels and the methodology of
quantifying oral disease on a population level. I completed group projects to come
up with innovative ways to manage the growing cost of health care and created a
mock plan to prevent dental disease in my state. Furthermore, I worked hands-on
with other graduate students to discover how large-scale data sets from
hospitals and other organizations can be used to help individuals make
healthier choices in their daily lives. Each class, project and assignment
during my M.P.H. education brought a new realm of knowledge and opportunity to
learn from my peers.
Ultimately, the most
fulfilling part of completing my M.P.H. was the students I worked with and got
to know. M.P.H. students come from a wide array of professional and personal
backgrounds. I worked daily with students from medicine, law, business and
other fields. And nearly half of my classmates were international students.
Together, we were able to share and brainstorm solutions to the problems facing
our individual fields and communities. The insight and perspective I gained
from a year of study with such diverse minds affected my view of dentistry and
made me a more empathetic dental care provider.
can you do as a dentist with a degree in public health? Individuals with degrees
in dentistry and public health work in areas such as community dentistry,
academics/research and policy as well as in public health departments or for
government entities. Public health dentists strive to improve the oral health
of others at the community and population levels.
can you get more information on dual degree dentistry and public health
If you are interested in pursuing a master’s degree in public health along with
your dental degree, talk to admissions officers at the dental schools you are
applying to. Also visit and review the American Association of
Public Health Dentistry
website for more information about programs and talk to mentors in the dental
field who have studied public health.
Completing my master’s
degree in public health greatly broadened the scope in which I can make a
positive impact in oral health, and the journey to completing the degree was
one of the most enriching experiences of my life. If you are interested in
affecting the oral health of others on a larger level within the community and
population, or if you find a focus on preventing dental disease to be
intriguing, I recommend and invite you to explore options for studying public
health along with dentistry!