Tips From Current D.D.S. and Dental Hygiene Students

Worried About Dental School Debt? A Military Scholarship Could Be Your Answer

Posted by Ben Anders on August 14, 2015

“You’re going to be a dentist and fly a plane?”
“You’re going to practice dentistry on a fighter jet?”
“You’re going to fix teeth in a war zone?”

I wasn’t quite anticipating the myriad of questions I received from friends and family after I told them that I joined the U.S. Air Force and accepted a three-year dental school scholarship. 

While my friends’ questions were hilarious, the truth is this: After dental school, I will not be flying a plane or practicing dentistry on a fighter jet. I will be safely on the ground, helping members of the U.S. Air Force improve their oral and overall health—and for that opportunity, I am honored.

You see, since I decided to pursue dentistry as a career, I’ve had a thirst for serving the public. My parents helped steer me in this direction—after all, my mom works for the U.S. federal government, and my dad spent part of his career working for our hometown’s parks and recreation department. 

As I searched for a way to give back to a country that has given me so much, I heard a lot of wonderful things about serving as a health professional in the U.S. Air Force, and I decided to pursue their Health Professions Scholarship Program. In exchange for a three-year dental school scholarship, which pays for all tuition, fees, required expenses and a monthly living stipend, I will serve as a dentist in the Air Force for three years after graduation. I even have the opportunity to pursue further education after dental school by completing a one-year Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) residency at a U.S. Air Force base.

In my second year of dental school, I commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force. This year, my final year of dental school, I am focusing on my regular day-to-day dental school routine, as I have no commitments to the Air Force while completing my education. After I graduate next May, I will attend a five-week commissioned officer training program in Alabama before reporting to a base in the United States for the one-year AEGD training. Following the residency, I will move to a different base (either within or outside the United States) to complete my three-year scholarship payback period. Therefore, my total active duty service commitment after dental school is four years. 

So, what makes military dentistry a good option for a career (or at the very least, a wonderful start to a career)?

Here are just a few of the many reasons:

  • You have a chance to serve your country by preparing our men and women of the military for their duties around the world. Our oral health is absolutely vital to our overall health, so the dental team is a critical component to ensuring every military member is healthy and prepared.
  • You have no (or very little) debt coming out of dental school. In my case, I have student loans from my first year of dental school, but they are extremely small in comparison to the $247,000 that the average U.S. dental school graduate amasses
  • You can see the world. After my one-year AEGD residency at a U.S. base, I can choose to spend three years abroad working as a dentist while paying back my scholarship.
  • You are rewarded financially and personally. During my one-year AEGD residency, I will be paid as a full-time dentist while also receiving free postgraduate education. Also, during my three-year active duty service commitment, I will be paid as a full-time dentist and receive great federal government benefits like health insurance and paid time off.

If you’re considering joining the military to help pay for dental school, I highly recommend it. I have had a wonderful experience so far, and I’m looking forward to what this part of my dental career has in store for me. 

I know that the education, training and experience I will receive with the U.S. Air Force will be second to none, and I’m proud to have this opportunity to serve the greatest country in the world.

About Ben Anders:

Ben Anders

Ben Anders is a fourth-year dental student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry. Prior to dental school, Ben received a Bachelor of Science in public health with a focus in health policy and management from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. He also completed a one-year fellowship at Oral Health America in Chicago, where he was engaged in nonprofit program development and advocacy for the oral health of our nation’s growing population of older Americans.

A native of Asheville, NC, Ben is scheduled to graduate from the UNC School of Dentistry’s Doctor of Dental Surgery program in May 2016. Upon graduation, he will pursue an Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) certification in the U.S. Air Force, followed by three years of active duty service as an Air Force dentist.