Career options for dentists beyond clinical practice

18 November 2019
Alternative careers for dentists looking for a change
We spoke to some of our dental school staff and alumni who have forged interesting careers outside of clinical practice to find out some of the best alternative career options for dentists looking for a new direction.

Working as a practising dentist or owning a clinic is a great way to gain experience in the field, but there are many other career options for dentists that don't always require patient contact.

In some cases, further education may be necessary, but a degree in dentistry or oral health can serve as a good foundation for a new direction in research, the corporate sector, public health and health policy or forensics.

Dr Christina Adler in a laboratory

“I am attracted to working in science because it enables me to try and help solve significant health problems, such as the issue of dental decay” - Dr Christina Adler

Dental research and academia

Along with a growing demand for qualified dentists across all specialties, there is also an increased demand for dedicated dental researchers and educators across all specialties.

As an academic, you have the choice of working with a range of product manufacturers, government organisations and educational institutions to contribute to advancing the field of dentistry and educating the future generations of dental professionals.

Dr Christina Adler is a Senior Lecturer at Sydney Dental School. Her research focuses on understanding how the oral microbiome evolves from a stage of health to the current state of highly prevalent chronic infection and disease.

She said she was influenced to follow a career in research by her honours supervisor, Dr Denise Donlon from the University of Sydney.

"She had great advice for starting in science: research something you are passionate about, get advice from mentors and be prepared for the ups and downs!”, said Dr Christina Adler.

What you can study:

Cochlear office building in Sydney

Dell Kingsford-Smith is the Vice President at Cochlear. She moved into the corporate sector from clinical dentistry after returning to work from having children.

Corporate roles

For dentists who enjoy the business side of running a practice, there are many alternative pathways into the corporate sector that might be of interest.

The expertise gained throughout your time practising as a dentist can be invaluable for product manufacturers, accreditation agencies, insurance companies and other healthcare service providers.

Dell Kingsford-Smith is an alumna of Sydney Dental School who practised briefly as a dentist before moving into a more general health policy area.

She pursued postgraduate study in economics so that she could be prepared in advocating for public dental health programs, studying the Master of Commerce, Economics and the Management of Technology at the University of Sydney.

Subsequently, she began working in health economics and pricing and was headhunted by one of her US clients, Johnson & Johnson, to manage a 40 billion dollar portfolio in global pharmaceutical pricing.

She thanks her degree in dentistry with ‘giving her credit’ when meeting with other medical or health professionals and enabling her to understand the clinical viewpoint.

Today, Dell Kingsford-Smith is living back in Australia and working as Vice President for Cochlear.

What you can study:

Poche centre Aboriginal dental program

Dr John Skinner completed his PhD at the University of Sydney in the area of Population Oral Health in the School of Dentistry.

Public health and health policy

With the link between good oral health and overall health now universally recognised, dental public health is a growing specialty that is working to prevent and reduce the impact of oral health disease at a population level.

This career focuses on community settings rather than private practice, opening opportunities to work in oral health promotion, research, policy-making and education for universities, local health districts, governments and international health agencies.

Dr John Skinner is a Senior Research Fellow at the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health where he pursues his research interests in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander oral health, service delivery and workforce programs.

A graduate of the Master of Public Health at the University of Sydney, Dr Skinner worked for almost 20 years in various roles related to public oral health policy and planning in the NSW Ministry of Health before welcoming the shift to academia.

He has provided exceptional leadership in public oral health policy and has initiated and led the development of the NSW Aboriginal Oral Health 2014-2020, the first of a kind in NSW.

What you can study:

Dr Lain uncovering casualties.

A Lieutenant Commander in the Navy Reserve, Dr Lain also works for the Unrecovered War Casualties-Army unit.

Forensic dentistry

Forensic dentists, also known as forensic odontologists, assist with investigations into unnatural deaths, homicides and cases where the deceased person is unknown.

To pursue this career path, dental graduates will need to undertake further specialty training in forensic endodontology, to learn how to analyse dental records to identify suspects from bite marks, human remains, and missing persons.

Dr Russell Lain is a forensic odontologist and alumus, who after working in regional private practice dentistry for twenty years was looking for a way to get back into the science behind dentistry.

“I went to a forensic conference and realised that this was a unique way that dentists help people and that only dentists can do this particular job of identifying people by their teeth,” he says.

He’s identified missing soldiers and the victims of crises including the Bali bombings and Thai tsunami and has helped to bring closure to countless families.

What can you study:

  • Sydney Dental School does not currently offer courses in odontology. Subscribe to receive updates about our upcoming CPD courses as they become available.

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