The U.S. Military Dental CorpsUpdated: February 23, 2021
If you are interested in becoming a dentist in the Armed Forces, the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force all recruit dentists to serve as commissioned officers in the Dental Corps. Active duty and reserve components recruit dentists who have their dental degree and have been licensed to practice dentistry. You can also qualify for special programs that can pay for tuition, along with a monthly salary, while you are in dental school. After graduating, you would serve as a dentist in the military for a specified number of years.
This article will cover current programs, the eligibility requirements, what your commitment would be, and how to apply to be a military dentist. After reading this article and are still interested in a challenging and rewarding career in the military as a dentist, your next step would be to contact your local recruiter.
What is the Dental Corps?
As a member of the Dental Corps, you will be responsible for the dental health of members of the military and their families. In some cases, you may be called upon to assist in emergency medical treatment of service members in deployed locations close to combat operations. You may also get the chance to contribute to humanitarian missions stateside and provide oral care to parts of the world where dentistry is a luxury.
As a military dentist, you can specialize in many areas, such as:
- general dentistry
- oral and maxillofacial surgery
- pediatric dentistry
You will also enjoy many other benefits that you won’t find as a dentist in the civilian world. Here are just a few:
- Work at the best military dental facilities
- Use cutting-edge dental technology
- Participate in local and global outreach to the young, elderly, and underprivileged
- Spend quality time with patients
- Maintain a flexible schedule
What Branches Have A Dental Corps?
Here are the military branches that have dentists assigned to the Dental Corps:
- Army Reserve
- Army National Guard
- Navy Reserve
- Air Force
- Air Force Reserve
- Air National Guard
Note: Navy dentists provide dental care to members of the U.S. Marine Corps.
What Are the Basic Requirements to be A Military Dentist?
To qualify for the Dental Corps, you’ll have to meet all requirements of a commissioned officer in the U.S. military. You’ll go through a full background check and will have to pass a medical examination.
Here are the basic requirements for entry into the Dental Corps:
- Be a U.S. citizen for active duty or a permanent resident for reserve status
- Graduated from an American Dental Association-accredited dental school with a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD)
- Be licensed to practice dentistry in the U.S.
- Be between 21 and 42 years of age (waivers may be available)
How Do I Apply?
The number of dentists brought into the Dental Corps depends on the needs of the military. As a dentist, you are eligible for a direct appointment, and your application will go before a selection board. Your local recruiter can tell you about current opportunities for each military branch (Army, Navy, Air Force). They can also schedule the tests and exams that are necessary and advise you on the needed documentation.
Do I Have To Attend Basic Military Training?
Yes. Once accepted, you must complete basic military officer training. Military training varies by branch of service, but all programs will teach you the military structure/customs of your branch of the service, leadership development, and military etiquette. The length of officer training ranges from five to seven weeks.
What Are the Benefits of a Military Dentist?
As a member of the military, you will be entitled to all the benefits and privileges of any service member. As a dentist, you are eligible for additional bonuses and retention incentives.
- Medical, dental, and life insurance: no-cost for active duty and low-cost for Army Reserve
- Substantial retirement plans
- Housing allowances
- 30 days paid vacation each year
- Health Professions Bonus
- A sign-up bonus of up to $75,000 is available for qualifying dental specialties
- Health Professions Loan Repayment
- This incentive is for you to extend your active duty commitment by having the government repay your professional educational loans (in select career fields)
- Repayment is capped at $40,000 per year for up to two years
- Variable Special Pay
- Variable Special Pay is a bump in the monthly pay for all dental officers, including interns, as an incentive to remain on active duty after completion of your contract
- Pay ranges from $250 – $1,000 per month based on time in service
- Board-Certified Dental Additional Special Pay
- This special pay is intended to encourage all dental officers to attain board certification and as a retention incentive
- Pay ranges from $200 – $500 per month, based on time in service
- Dental Officer Multiyear Retention Bonus
- Depending on your specialty and the length of your contract, bonuses can range from $13,000 to $50,000 per year
What Will Be My Rank and Pay When I Enter the Military?
Once you have been accepted as a member of the Dental Corps and completed all your residency and military training, you will begin your career as an O-3. Your base pay, housing allowance, and food allowance will be around $100,000 (based on the 2020 pay chart). Depending on your experience (number of years in private practice), you may be able to enter the military with a higher rank. Check with your local recruiter for details.
If you are interested in a part-time military career, The Army Reserves, Navy Reserves, Air Force Reserves, and Army and Air Force and National Guards are always looking for dentists to serve in their reserve components. These reserve components have their own set of incentives and programs. Check with your local recruiter for more details.
Are There Programs to Help Me Pay for Dental School?
The Dental Corps offers several attractive financial support options and incentives like tuition assistance and monthly stipends. Additional incentives are available for high-demand dental specialties.
Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP)
If you get accepted into the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), you will receive a three or four-year scholarship at an American Dental Association accredited D.D.S. or D.M.D. program. Your tuition is paid for by the U.S. Government, and you get a monthly stipend (income)! Medical training is the same as your civilian peers, but as an HPSP recipient, you have to go to a modified form of basic military training. Training usually occurs during your second year of medical school. During your third- and fourth-year clinical years, you get the chance to rotate at military hospitals if you choose.
Financial Assistance Program (FAP)
If you have already been through dental school and want to be a military doctor, you can apply for the Financial Assistance Program (FAP). Once you have been accepted into a civilian residency program, you can contact a recruiter and apply to be a member of the Dental Corps in the Army, Air Force, or Navy. FAP includes an annual grant, a monthly stipend, reimbursement for required books, equipment, and supplies, and payment of any required tuition. You will have to be eligible for military service and pass a military physical examination.
Tuition, Pay, and Benefits
Once you are accepted for the HPSP, the government will pay your tuition, provide a monthly living stipend ($2,400 per month) and reimburse you for required books, equipment, and supplies. Your stipend will be paid to you through direct deposit twice a month. You will spend 45 days each year of dental school training with the military. During those periods, you’ll get the same pay and benefits as an active-duty Second Lieutenant in the Army and Air Force or an Ensign in the Navy. You may also get a $20,000 signing bonus for joining the Army, Air Force, and Navy.
FAP includes an annual grant of $45,000, a monthly stipend of over $2,000, reimbursement for required books, equipment, and supplies, and payment of any required tuition. As a resident in FAP, you will be a member of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). You will not wear a uniform, and you will not be subject to military deployments. You will be required to participate in one 14-day annual training period for every year you spend in the program. During your Annual Training, you will be considered an active-duty officer, and you will receive pay and benefits equal to those of a captain in the Army or Air Force or a lieutenant in the Navy.
Since the U.S. military is paying for your dental school, it’s only fair you have to pay it back—so to speak. You will pay it back through a one-to-one payback in military service. If you completed med school in four years, you are bound to be a military dentist for at least four years.
As a civilian resident physician, you can enter military service through the Financial Assistance Program (FAP). Unlike all other programs, you incur a service commitment based on your length in the program, plus one-half year, with a minimum period of 3 years on Active Duty for Dentists
A career as a member of the U.S. Military Dental Corps will be exciting, rewarding, and financially lucrative. If you have had dreams of being a member of the military and a dentist—do both! You will provide high-quality dental care to service members, their families, and maybe to needy people worldwide. It’s never too early to plan your path to becoming a military dentist.
Jim spent 22 years on active duty, climbing the ranks from Airman Basic to a decorated Air Force Major. Stationed all over the world, he held many high-level posts, including Chief of Foreign Military Sales at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Jim earned his Ph.D. through the Montgomery Era GI Bill and spent 13 years teaching African Studies in Pennsylvania. Jim is also an award-winning travel writer.