You've probably already done a lot of thinking about what field of dentistry you'd like to end up in, but there are some dental career paths you may not have considered. Remember that there will be flexibility over the course of your career to move between fields.
An associate works for dentist owner, either as a direct employee, an independent contractor, or Solo group/time-share (renting space and equipment). These are primarily distinguished by employee status and whether you're bringing in your own patients. Associates can also work for a large group practice, rather than an individual owner. This means a lot of the administration and management things are handled by a third-party. You'll also want to know whether the associateship is equity or non-equity - whether you own a part of the practice. Equity = sharing profit and loss; non-equity = consistent income and reduced responsibility.
The academic dentist can be a teacher, a researcher, or both. They follow the evidence as it arises, develop new procedures, technologies and materials that drive the profession. If you like teaching or enjoy the stimulating intellectual aspect of dentistry, this might be the right path for you. Advanced dental fellowships and research opportunities are out there for everyone, sponsored by public and private organizations. The academic dentist works at a university or specialized center of health and research, or in the private sector.
The Federal Dentist
Many dentists choose to join as an officer in a branch of the military to practice dental care to service men and women. This can be a very good option if you're looking for the security of a government job as well as a way to serve. Military dentists enjoy state-of-the-art facilities, great benefits, and continuing education options.
- U.S. Navy Dental Corps
- U.S. Air Force
- U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs
- U.S. Public Health Service
- Federally Qualified Health Center
Additionally there are also policy positions, such as those in Health and Human Services. There also are many state and federal government work programs that provide significant debt forgiveness.
More Public Health Options
When you’re ready to become a practice owner, either solo or as a group, you'll want to investigate all factors that contribute to its value beyond the tangibles (legal/purchasing/licensing/tax fees, the building lease, equipment, etc.). How is the location? Is there well-trained staff? What is the practice's reputation? Will the client base remain intact following the transition? Be sure to look at all the financial records you can find. Understand the financial trends of that location, try to predict how they would change with new ownership. Above all, get advice from both an accountant and a lawyer.
- Volunteer Service or Global Dentistry
If you want to be a part of a larger effort to increase global health, you can go international and help people in developing countries.
Many young dentists experiment with a few different options before settling on a practice setting. Mixing teaching, volunteering and private practice and one or more offices is not unusual.