Dental Careers

Text compiled from the ASDA Getting Into Dental School

Private Practice

Private practice is the traditional work setting for many dentists, in which dental services are provided directly to patients in nongovernmental settings.  According to a 2010 survey by the ADA, 70% are solo practitioners, 16% are in partnerships, 10% are employed dentists, and 4% are independent contractors.

Established dental practices will sometimes hire a new graduate as an associate.  Associates are salaried employees that do not participate in the practice’s management.  Beginning as an associate provides new dentists an opportunity to learn the craft of dentistry without having to take a huge financial risk.  Most job opportunities for new dentists are starting as an associate.

In a typical situation, the new dentist offers his or her service for a contractually stated period of time to gain practice and experience.  After a few years, the associate dentist leaves to establish his or her own practice.  Dentists in this arrangement can be expected to be asked to sign a restrictive covenant, which prohibits a new dentist from establishing a practice within a certain distance of the existing practice for a certain period of time after leaving.  This is usually the area that encompasses the existing patient base. In other situations, the associate will later be asked to become a partner in the practice.

A dentist interested in retiring may hire a young dentist initially as an associate with the idea of selling the practice to him or her afterwards.  This arrangement gives the young dentist the opportunity to become acquainted with the practice and its patients, ensuring a smooth transition from the older to younger dentist.


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 furthering 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, an MBA or similar training is helpful.

There is a shortage of academic dentistry faculty. According to the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Dental Education, an average of seven positions are vacant at each U.S. dental school.


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 and 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 your choice.


Dental associations

Various national, state and local dental associations hire dental professionals for administrative positions.  Contact the association or go to for national and local listings.


Dental clinics

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


Dental research

A research career is pursued at 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.


Dental service organizations (DSO)

Dental service organizations (DSOs) contract with dental practices to provide administrative and operations management.  In this model, a new dentist works as an employee and earns a salary, focusing exclusively on patient care.  The DSO provides all non-clinical and administrative functions, such as accounting, marketing, and billing.  For new dentists considering solo practice, the advantages include no initial capital outlay, income immediately available, the stresses of practice management eliminated, and no need for patient recruitment and employee benefits. Both general dentists and specialists can work as DSO employees.


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 a 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.


Hospital dentistry

Hospital dentistry typically involves treating patients who do not receive their dental care through traditional channels, such as those who are medically or mentally compromised, patients with emergency needs and hospital employees.



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


Private industry

Most private industry positions involve laboratory research, but a few involve clinical research. 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.


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 countries. Both types of programs emphasize clinical services, often providing services to low-income families, sometimes in dental clinics.


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 but not limited to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes for Health, and more.