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Public Health Dentist: Education and Career Information

For every set of public health programs, there is someone overseeing the issues and coordinating services that will work to the benefit of the general public. In dentistry, that position belongs to the public health dentist, who handles the administration of services, and in a lot of cases, provides services to the general public at large. Dentistry is a lucrative career field and may be one to pursue.

What does a public health dentist do?

A public health dentist is a general dentist that works in communities that have specific needs. Most of these needs deal with the impoverished or undeveloped communities in the United States or around the world. Everyone needs basic dental care, and a public health dentist provides all those services in the diagnosis and treatment of issues with the gums, teeth and parts of the mouth. They also perform fillings, crowns, bridges, root canals, cleanings, bondings, x-rays, and some other cosmetic dental procedures.

In more serious procedures, they remove decay from teeth, fix cavities, repair cracked and damaged teeth, help correct bite problems, write prescriptions for drugs and educate the public on diet, flossing and good dental hygiene. Although they perform a lot of these services, this position is also involved in a lot of administrative work, gathering information and spotting trends and problems in the field of public health dentistry. You find these individuals working in the government sector, in health clinics and other facilities that are funded by the government.

How much does a public health dentist make?

According to, the average salary for dentists is $84,000 and on the higher end, averaging about $166,000 per year. Overall, the outlook for dentists is expected to increase by 21% through the year 2020, which surpasses the national average. The need for dental work is growing, and there is a high demand for qualified dentists, which are in shortage, especially in poor areas of the country.

What skills are needed to become a public health dentist?

Public health dentists need a specific skill set which includes:

Communications: Public health dentists are there to serve the people. They must be able to handle communications with a variety of individuals of all levels and walks of life. This role is not only one that provides dental services, but serves as an educator for the general public.

Attention to detail: A public health dentist must be able to pinpoint minute details in a number of areas to properly assess and diagnose patients. They must be flexible enough to understand when problems occur, and have a plan in place to address these issues.

Dexterity: When working with patients, manual dexterity is a must. This is a position where there are hours spent on working with the oral cavity on patients. Being able to handle consistent, repetitious movement in the hands is key.

Leadership: A public health dentist is in the public eye. They must be able to take charge and implement initiatives that are geared toward helping the community-at-large in getting the information they need on good oral hygiene, and in coordinating dental health services.

Organizational skills: Working with poorer areas usually results in more documentation that needs to be handled for those disadvantaged parties to receive the services they need. A public health dentist must be able to organize and manage a variety of records, documentation and meetings in order to be successful in this position.

Patience: A high degree of patience is needed in this field, as there are many people who are unaware of what good oral hygiene is, and how it can affect your overall health. Being able to patiently explain what will take place, and how they will be helped is key.

Problem solving: Being able to handle a variety of problems when they occur is one of the roles of this position. There are a number of issues that can occur when dealing with publicly funded services, so being able to navigate these resources and services to benefit the patients is invaluable.

Stamina: With so many demands being made on public health dentists, having a good amount of stamina to handle the various tasks and responsibilities is important. Knowing how to pace and keep your mental health in check when working with others is important.

Internship Requirements

There is an internship requirement for the dental school component, and a 12 month residency program during the masters of public health program.

Educational Requirements

The first step in becoming a dentist is to complete a bachelor’s degree program, which is four years. Although the requirement for dental school does not designate any specific major, seeking a major that study biology or anatomy, dealing with the body is a good idea. Seeking a school that has a pre-dental program is a very good choice. Studies in English, psychology, and biology are just some of the courses you will take in the undergraduate program.

During the last two years of the bachelor’s degree program, students should start considering dental schools. The Dental Admission Test (DAT) is required at least one year prior to applying to dental school. This test consists of four multiple-choice tests. It is administered by The American Dental Association (ADA), and is one of the top criteria for selection into dental programs.

After entering dental school, there are an additional four years to complete. Students are trained in dental anatomy and epidemiology, dental materials, mouth disease diagnosis and pharmacology. Upon completion of the program, students will earn either a Doctor of Dental Surgery, or Doctor of Dental Medicine degree.

Once this degree has been conferred, students must pass both parts of the National Board Dental Examination. This examination consists of both written and clinical tests and must be passed to obtain a license.

Students must then enroll into the Dental Public Health program, which is a master’s degree program conferring the MPH. This prepares students for careers in public health. This program does not exceed 24 months, and helps students apply concepts in the implementation, planning, operation and evaluation of dental public health programs. This also helps to manage oral health programs and assume leadership in a variety of areas including planning, communications, marketing, human resources, financial management, quality assurance and risk management.

This is a rewarding career path that is focused on the development and implementation of programs that will work to the benefit of the public at large.

Dentistry Scholarships

ADA Foundation CBCF Louis Stokes Health Scholars Program CDA Foundation
National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Tylenol Future Care Scholarship American Dental Education Association (ADEA)
Academy of Laser Dentistry U.S. Army Health Professions Scholarship Hispanic Dental Association
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