After Dental School

Dental school graduates have a variety of career options.Approximately 80% of all dentists practice general dentistry, and 20% are specialists.In most states, dental school graduates are eligible to enter the practice of general dentistry immediately upon graduation.Many graduates opt for advanced education, completing advanced general dentistry, dental specialty, master's, or Ph.D. programs.

Traditionally, most dental graduates engage in the private practice of dentistry, but there are other options including academic dentistry, dental research, and service with the federal government.

Private Practice  

The majority of practicing dentists are engaged in some form of private practice, either by themselves or in partnership with other dentists.Most recent graduates begin their careers in salaried or associate positions in private practices, but most choose to move to practice ownership within several years.Most practitioners use a fee schedule, participate in preferred provider plans, or accept some combination of both as payment for providing care.Fewer than 15% of dentists participate in dental health maintenance organizations (HMOs).

Academic Dentistry and Dental Education  

Many dental educators say the chief benefit of their career is the stimulation of working with outstanding colleagues and bright young students.Other significant benefits include teaching in didactic, clinical, and laboratory areas; patient care in dental clinics or in faculty practice; designing and conducting research; writing for journals; exploring new technologies and discoveries; and administration.Many dental school faculty combine the private practice of dentistry with teaching responsibilities.

Dental Research  

Dentists trained as researchers are scientists who contribute to improving health care nationally and internationally.Many researchers are faculty members at universities; others work in federal facilities such as the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)[www.nidcr.nih.gov], the National Institutes of Health (NIH) [www.nih.gov], or in private industry.Postgraduate fellowships and opportunities are available in a variety of areas and sponsored by public and private organizations.

Service in the Federal Government  

Numerous opportunities for dental school graduates are available through federal government positions.The military enlists dentists to serve the oral health needs of military personnel and their families, and offer scholarships and loan repayment programs for dental students and graduates.For information on careers in the military, check out:

U.S. Army  

U.S. Navy  

U.S. Air Force  

Applying to Advanced Dental Education Programs  

 

There are many clinical fields in dentistry. While most dentists in private practice (92%) are general practitioners, others choose to specialize in one particular field. ADEA's Postdoctoral Application Support Service (PASS) simplifies the process of applying to most postdoctoral programs in general dentistry as well as the specialties listed above. To learn about participating programs in all general and specialty fields, the PASS Program Search Engine provides current information that is maintained by the programs themselves.

Following is a brief description of the procedures dentists perform in each field, whether education beyond dental school (that is, postdoctoral or specialty education) is required, the length of programs, and the current number of postdoctoral programs and first-year residents in those programs nationwide.

1. General Dentistry  

General dentists use their oral diagnostic, preventive, surgical, and rehabilitative skills to restore damaged or missing tooth structure and treat diseases of the bone and soft tissue in the mouth and adjacent structures. They also provide patients with programs of preventive oral health care. Currently, there are 58 dental schools in the United States, i ncluding one in Puerto Rico. These schools enroll approximately 4,700 students in their first-year classes. Postdoctoral education is not required to practice as a general dentist. However, general practice residencies (GPR) and advanced education in general dentistry (AEGD) are available and can expand the general dentist's career options and scope of practice. The length of these general dentistry postdoctoral programs varies, but most are 12 months long. In the United States, there are 191 GPR programs with 908 first-year residents and 89 AEGD programs with 530 first-year residents.

2. Dental Public Health  

Individuals who enter the dental public health field are involved in developing policies and programs, such as health care reform, that affect the community at large. Advanced dental education is required. The types of programs available vary widely from certificate programs to master's (M.P.H.) and doctoral (D.P.H.) programs. The length of programs varies, but most are between 12 and 24 months long. There are 13 programs and 19 first-year residents i n the United States. Visit the American Association of Public Health Dentistry at www.aaphd.org.

3. Endodontics  

Endodontists diagnose and treat diseases and injuries that are specific to the dental nerves and pulp (the matter inside the tooth) and tissues that affect the vitality of the teeth. Advanced dental education is required. Some programs offer certificates; others are degree programs at the master's (M.S.D.) level. Students interested in academic dentistry generally prefer degree programs. The length of programs varies, but most are 24 to 36 months long. There are 52 programs and 200 first-year residents in the United States. Visit the American Association of Endodontists at www.aae.org.

 

 

4. Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology

 

Oral pathologists are dental scientists who study and research the causes, processes, and effects of diseases with oral manifestations. These diseases may be confined to the mouth and oral cavity, or they may affect other parts of the body. Most oral pathologists do not treat patients directly. However, they provide critical diagnostic and consultative biopsy services to dentists and physicians in the treatment of their patients. Advanced dental education is required. Some programs offer certificates; others are degree programs at the master's (M.S.D.) or doctoral (Ph.D.) level. Students interested in academic dentistry generally prefer degree programs. The length of programs varies, but most are 36 months long. There are 14 programs and nine first-year residents in the United States. Visit the American Academy of Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology at www.aaomp.org.

5. Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology  

Oral radiologists have advanced education and experience in radiation physics, biology, safety, and hygiene related to the taking and interpretation of conventional, digital, CT, MRI, and allied imaging modalities of oral-facial structures and disease. Programs are 24 to 36 months in length, depending on the certificate or degree offered. This recently designated specialty currently has five programs with eight first-year residents in the United States. Visit the American Academy of Oral & Maxillofacial Radiology at www.aaomr.org.

 

 

6. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

 

This specialty requires practitioners to provide a broad range of diagnostic services and treatments for diseases, injuries, and defects of the neck, head, jaw, and associated structures. Advanced dental education is required. Programs vary in length from four to six years; some programs offer certificates and others include the awarding of an M.D. degree within the residency program. There are 100 programs and 210 first-year residents in the United States. Visit the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons at www.aaoms.org.

 

 

7. Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics

 

Orthodontists treat problems related to irregular dental development, missing teeth, and other abnormalities. Beyond "straightening teeth," orthodontists establish normal functioning and appearance for their patients. Advanced dental education is required. Some programs offer certificates; others are degree programs at the master's (M.S.D.) level. Students interested in academic dentistry generally prefer degree programs. The length of programs varies, but most are 24 to 36 months long. There are 60 programs and 330 first-year residents in the United States. Visit the American Association of Orthodontists at www.braces.org.

 

 

8. Pediatric Dentistry

 

Pediatric dentists specialize in treating children from birth to adolescence. They also treat disabled patients beyond the age of adolescence. Postdoctoral education is required. Some programs offer certificates; others are degree programs at the master's (M.S.D.) or doctoral (Ph.D.) level. Students interested in academic dentistry generally prefer degree programs. The length of programs varies, but most are 24 to 36 months long. There are 65 programs and 292 first-year residents in the United States. Visit the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry at www.aapd.org.

 

 

9. Periodontics

 

Periodontists diagnose and treat diseases of the gingival tissue and bone supporting the teeth. Gingival tissue includes the gum, the oral mucous membranes, and other tissue that surrounds and supports the teeth. Advanced dental education is required. Some programs offer certificates; others are degree programs at the master's (M.S.D.) or doctoral (Ph.D.) level. Students interested in academic dentistry generally prefer degree programs. The length of programs varies, but most are 36 months long. There are 53 programs and 175 first-year residents in the United States. Visit the American Academy of Periodontology at www.perio.org.

 

 

10. Prosthodontics

 

Prosthodontists replace missing natural teeth with fixed or removable appliances, such as dentures, bridges, and implants. Advanced dental education is required. Some programs offer certificates; others are degree programs at the master's (M.S.D.) level. Students interested in academic dentistry generally prefer degree programs. The length of programs varies, with training lasting between 12 and 36 months. There are 57 programs and 145 first-year residents in the United States. Visit the American College of Prosthodontists at www.prosthodontics.org.