There are 65 dental schools in the United States, according to the American Dental Education Association. Eighteen of these schools offer a dual degree program; an additional 10 schools offer a PhD in oral biology, oral health, or oral science.75, 76 The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) currently funds 19 institutions with T32 or T90/R90 awards. Of these, 13 offer a dual DMD or DDS/PhD degree and 9 provide support for PhD or postdoctoral training for non-U.S. citizens and/or permanent residents.77
Dual degree programs are relatively new in dental education; traditionally, dental education has been primarily focused on the clinical preparation of students who receive little exposure to research during their dental education. As a result, a 2004 survey of more than 4,000 dental school graduates by the American Dental Education Association found that only 0.5 percent had plans to focus on teaching or research.78
DDS/PhD programs typically take 6 to 8 years to complete and the number of students enrolled in each program is small, 1-2 students per year.79 Students enrolled in these programs typically graduate with less debt than other dental school graduates, due to the availability of NIH training funds. However, the integration between scientific and clinical training is often poorly defined in these programs with incongruent clinical and scientific program requirements that may be challenging for students to resolve. In addition, there are few senior faculty mentors available to DDS/PhD trainees, and few dentist-scientist role models.
Following completion of DDS/PhD programs, most graduates enter specialty training or private practice. Consequently, the number of DDS/PhD scientists entering the dentist-scientist workforce is relatively low.
An additional barrier to the recruitment of more DDS/PhD candidates is the absence of a centralized information source where prospective students can learn about available programs, application requirements, and research career opportunities.
76 Roger. J.M. (2006). A survey of dual-degree training opportunities at U.S dental schools. Journal of Dental Education 70(9), 909-917.
77 NIDCR. National Research Service Award Institutional Research Training Grants (T32 or T90/R90).http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/CareersAndTraining/Fellowships/Institutions/ParticipatingInstitutions/
78 Roger, ibid.