Ways to use your dental degree | American Dental Association

Ways to use your dental degree

Looking for opportunities beyond the chair? Explore ways to use your education and talents in a variety of fields.

Your dental expertise can open new doors

If you are a practicing dentist considering careers beyond traditional practice, you’re in good company. Many clinicians look for alternatives to the daily demands of caring for patients and running a practice. Others are intrigued by the challenges of academia, research, product development and more.

If clinical dentistry has been your only career, you may want to pause and assess your strengths, preferences and goals before you move forward. Dental school graduates considering alternative careers can benefit from this step, too. Having a clear picture of your values and priorities will help you find the career that’s right for you. See five examples of dentists using their degrees in unique ways.

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Explore alternative careers

Interested in educating new dentists? Developing innovative dental products? Applying your skills as a dental consultant? Take a closer look at careers that offer fresh challenges and rewards.  
Dental education and research
Everything you have learned as a practicing dentist can help you launch a new career in dental education. Your expertise can lead to a new role teaching:
  • Pre-clinical and clinical procedures
  • Basic and behavioral science
  • Dental specialties
  • Postdoctoral general dentistry
  • Dental assisting, hygiene or dental lab technology
  • Practice management principles
  • Continuing education courses

Academic settings also look for proven leaders who can guide extramural programs, fulfill community outreach roles and more.

Dental research is another field closely related to education. Dental investigators work in government institutions, universities and private research centers to expand the knowledge base that supports quality oral care. Fellowships and doctorate programs can provide the additional training you need to become a successful researcher. A career in research requires an advanced degree or additional training beyond the dental degree. Funding is often available for continuing studies leading to a research career.

To learn more about careers in academic settings and government, visit:

The American Dental Education Association Career Center


National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research 

National Institutes of Health (NIH)



Organized dentistry

Organized dentistry encompasses the work of all organizations whose mission is to advance the dental profession. This field offers plenty of opportunities for dental school graduates and experienced dentists. The ADA is one of many employers in organized dentistry. We work closely with many other dental associations, specialty organizations, ethnic dental associations and student organizations to collaborate on issues of importance to dental professionals.

Trained dentists fulfill many roles at the ADA and other organizations, serving as researchers, product evaluators and program administrators.

Additional resources include:

Jobs at the ADA

National, State and Local Dental Organizations

National Organizations for Dental Specialties

The American Society for Association Executives (ASAE)

Dental consulting
As a trained dentist, you have expertise that can help other dentists deliver better patient care and run their practices more efficiently. While consulting is a competitive field, it offers rewarding opportunities for many dentists, whether they choose to practice independently or join large consulting firms.

Most consultants offer advice and strategies for practice management. Dental practices may seek insights to help with:

  • Strategic planning
  • Team building and communication
  • Financial management
  • Launching a new practice
  • Evaluating success over time
  • Buying or selling a practice
  • Hiring new associates and dental team members
  • Effective marketing techniques
  • Treatment planning and case presentation
  • Human resources management
  • Regulatory issues
  • Equipment and technology

Consultants who provide advice to specific practices may also conduct group seminars and accept paid speaking engagements.

Consultants in large corporate practices may play a number of roles, such as coordinating between a company’s human resources department and the insurer providing dental benefits for employees. Dental insurers also hire consultants to handle claims adjudication.

To learn more about careers in dental consulting, visit:

The American Association of Dental Consultants (AADC)

The Academy of Dental Management Consultants

Dental product development

Rapid development of new dental technologies leads to the demand for advanced equipment, tools and consumer products. Your dental education and skills can lead to a satisfying career with an innovative organization focused on:

  • Restoration tools and techniques
  • Cosmetic treatments
  • Paperless dental record systems
  • Consumer products, including new pharmaceuticals

Career opportunities in dental products may range from strategic planning and research to sales and marketing. Background in research and product development will be a plus, along with advanced dental education and degrees in related fields.

To learn more about careers in dental product development, visit:

The Dental Trade Alliance

The National Dental Electronic Data Interchange Council

Dental insurance

Major dental insurers often employ experienced dentists to help set standards for claims handling or to review individual claims. Roles in administration, management, research and policy development may also be available. Dentists may also join benefits clearinghouses that provide expert claims handling for multiple insurers. Some roles in dental insurance may require coursework beyond your dental degree. Training in finance, business management and related fields can be helpful.

Federal services and public health
More than 5,000 dentists work for the U.S. Public Health Service, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs or the U.S. military. This career path offers many benefits, including:
  • Base salary, often with non-taxable income and benefits
  • A competitive compensation package that grows as your career advances
  • Opportunity to complete a residency or specialty program of your choice
  • Access to continuing education
  • Ability to expand your skills in a work environment similar to general dentistry

Roles may include providing care for military veterans as part of the VA system or becoming a uniformed officer working with active-duty personnel. The U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps hires dental officers to serve in the Indian Health Service, U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Bureau of Prisons and the National Health Service Corps. The Commissioned Corps is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, overseen by the Surgeon General. While it is not officially part of the military, officers may assist in public health responses to man-made and natural disasters. Officers receive the same benefits as their counterparts in the military. 

There are also opportunities in International health care where dentist can provide services to populations abroad and work for such agencies as the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Many dentists volunteer to bring dentistry to aid people in third world countries.

Additionally, dentists may find career openings in public health programs at the state and local level. These programs may offer services for patients who otherwise would not have access to oral health care.

Learn more about military and public career opportunities.