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Dr. Bob Russell, State Dental Director

Dr. Russell was encouraged to pursue dentistry and a clinical career and, as a first generation college graduate, he was strongly influenced to make a contribution back to his community.  This belief motivated him in selecting dentistry and particularly public health dentistry as career choices.  Seeing dentistry at a crossroads with many challenges regarding access to care issues is what motivates him to work toward solving pertinent issues.

What advice do you have for a young person considering the profession? 
This is a great time to shape the future of dentistry, dentistry is a very diverse field-for example in the public health dentistry there are opportunities to work at state, federal local levels, in organizations such as the Indian Health Service (IHS) and many more pathways to contribute back.  One needs to have passion for the profession and be open minded as to opportunities.

Earlier in his dental career, Dr. Bob Russell was involved in advocacy work developing an oral health coalition and completing a degree in Public Health Administration. Later, he was instrumental in the planning and organizing the Michigan State Oral Health Program before becoming the Iowa State Dental Director in 2005.  Today, Dr. Russell’s career in public health dentistry encompasses many roles as well as working as a staff dentist with minority populations in inner city and rural settings and being part of a  federal agency, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). 

Dr. Russell logs many miles in and out of the state as well as across the country in any given week meeting with the Washington Office of CDC for weekly updates, meeting with the leadership team and attending conferences.  In addition to a great deal of public speaking, Dr. Russell is involved in writing articles for scholarly publications such as, Public Health Dentistry, CA Dental Association (CDA) Journal and others.

He directs a staff of eight, acts as a spokesperson on oral health issues, coordinates activities with local, state and national organizations, reports on and updates his staff and state groups on public health information and keeps abreast of evidenced-based research related to public health initiatives. Additionally, as the Iowa State Dental Director, he is involved in fiscal operations including seeking requests for proposals (RFPs) and distributing funds (grants) for state and federal grants. Several million dollars are distributed to local government programs such as Medicaid annually.  In describing his work, Dr. Russell says, “no two days are the same.”

Note: To find out more information about the career field of public health dentistry, please see the American Association of Public Health Dentistry (AAPHD) career information site, Why Choose a Career in Public Health Dentistry located at  
Also for information on the non - profit association representing the directors and staff of state public health agency programs for oral health see


For additional information on the IA Department of Public Health Oral Health Bureau go to