Words From Your Peers

Perspectives from a Dual Degree M.P.H./D.D.S. Student

Posted by Jean Marie Calvo on October 19, 2016

According 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.

What is public 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 and policy.

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.

What 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.

Where can you get more information on dual degree dentistry and public health programs? 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!

About Jean Marie Calvo:

Jean Marie Calvo

Jean Marie Calvo, M.P.H.
Dental Student
University of California, San Francisco

Jean Marie Calvo is a dental student at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Dentistry and will complete her D.D.S. in 2017. She completed her Master of Public Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in 2016 and is the 2016 American Dental Education Association (ADEA) Jack Bresch Legislative Intern. Outside of dental school, Jean enjoys reading, cooking and running. She completed her first half marathon in Washington, D.C., in early 2016.