top of page
  • Writer's pictureMark Abere

Is Dental Residency Worth It?

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

I’ll start off by saying that the dental world is a lot different from traditional medicine when it comes to residency and specializing.

In medicine, you HAVE to do a residency to work and function as a Physician. In dentistry, residency is completely optional. In dentistry there exist general residencies (GPRs and AEGDs if you want to gain more experience in all fields of dentistry), and also specialty residencies - Orthodontics (braces), Pediatrics (children), Endodontics (root canals), Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, and Periodontics (gum specialist and implants).

So what would possess a dentist to specialize if they don’t have to? 4 years of undergrad, 4 years of dental school and then MORE SCHOOL? Lol for what?? I know most of y'all are like....

I currently work as a general Dentist in a pediatric dental office. When I tell people that I want to go back to school to specialize I always get a plethora of questions. “Aren’t you already treating children?” “You really want to go back to school!?” “Isn’t residency hard” “Aren’t you limiting yourself if you do that?” “Is that a wise decision…. Financially?” “Won’t you experience a pay cut?"

So many questions. And to be honest, initially when I realized I still had the desire to go back to residency to specialize after working in private practice, I didn’t have all the answers to these questions.

I graduated dental school with the intention of getting as much experience in pediatric dentistry as possible. I applied for a pediatric residency my 4th year of dental school, but unfortunately did not match. I knew I loved working with kids and did NOT want to do adult general dentistry so I searched for a position in a pediatric clinic as a general Dentist.

I didn’t have to look too far before I found one I liked. I got hands on experience with kids from age 2-16, and worked alongside Pediatric dentists with varying years of experience and training from different schools/programs. Naturally, I was able to see the limitations of a general dentist compared to a Pediatric dentist, so hopefully I can shed some light on why on earth a dentist would want to go back to school after being out in practice for some time to become a specialist.

1. More Training and Experience

“Don’t you learn how to treat kids in dental school?” - The honest truth is that most Dental Schools don’t give a great deal of pediatric experience for their doctoral students - especially schools with pediatric residency programs. Pediatric cases are generally saved for the residents, so the doctoral students don’t get a TON of experience. The majority of my training has been on the job, Continued Education and information via research articles (shout out to the AAPD).

Residency allows you specialized training - giving you experience treating caries (cavities) in kids with developmental disorders, kids with special needs, kids that are medically compromised and kids with poor behavior.

The BIGGEST difference I see in General Dentist vs. Pediatric Dentist is the ability to work under sedation. A lot of the aforementioned cases are treated with some sort of sedative technique: Oral sedation, IV (intravenous) sedation or General Anesthesia. Doing residency would offer you an environment which you can safely learn these techniques with the help of well trained teachers and instructors. Going through a residency allows a doctor to provide care for patients that cannot be treated in a traditional clinic setting (hospital dentistry). Overall, a good dental residency will give you more training in your area of interest, making you more comfortable when it comes to treating your patients.

2. More Autonomy

As with any other speciality, as a pediatric specialist, you do not have to refer any cases out. You're basically the one stop shop. At my job now, I pretty much work under the supervision of a specialist. Whenever a case requires sedation, I refer them to our on staff pediatric dentists. Becoming a specialist would allow me to treat all my patients.

3. Compensation…(?)

Obviously, money should not be a motivating factor for wanting to do residency, (or for wanting to be a health care professional in general). My desire to want to pursue this aspect of my career stems from wanting to be able to offer more for my patients. Its a well known fact that dentist are well compensated for their work. That's understood. Being able to provide more services obviously increases your compensation. However, the compensation I refer to is the reward that comes from knowing that you’re serving a specific demographic of patients the best way you possibly can. In the future, I would love to continue working with under-served populations. I’ve seen that cavities disproportionately affect kids who are in lower income households and/or in under-served areas. Residency would equip me with tools to successfully improve oral healthcare in the tiny patients.

So it's 2-3 years of more school?

Yes. Haha. Unfortunately.

Is it worth it? In my case, I believe yes. But it ultimately depends on what you're passionate about and the autonomy you desire. It also depends on how comfortable you are with certain procedures upon finishing the clinical rotations 3rd year of dental school (because that's when you apply). I think that with the patient demographic I enjoy working with, I can make the most impact by completing a residency.

Thanks for the read! Hope to bring you more content about my experience in dentistry as a minority doctor.

bottom of page