The road less traveled: Public Health Dentistry

August 8, 2020 | Dr. G. Rajesh

On a summer afternoon in the year 2002, I stood in the queue at the phone booth to inform my parents about securing a post graduation seat in a prestigious dental institution. As I diligently waited for my turn to share my happiness with my parents, my thoughts wandered to the matchbox-sized phone booth, and how claustrophobic it would be. Finally, as I got my turn, I shared the news with my parents. While happy for my success, they were also skeptical about the stream I’d chosen: Public Health Dentistry.

Once home, I fielded a series of questions regarding my choice of subject. My dad asked me about the scope, limitations, advantages, disadvantages, and challenges of Public Health Dentistry in India. The only answer I could come up with was “we’ll go to camps.” Dad smirked and inquired “Do you need to be MDS to go to camps?” He added with an intriguing smile, “Do you need a public health dentist to tell that poor people have dental problems?” I just managed a meek “I will get to know soon.”

Years passed pretty quickly, and we were thrown into the rigmaroles of PG life. We grew. I did attend camps, many of them. Battered and bruised, we managed to clear our exams and finally secured jobs.

Many people still ask me: “What on earth do you guys exactly do?” Another question I frequently receive is: “How to get into the World Health Organization (WHO)?” The answer to the first question lies somewhere between “doing nothing” and “getting into the WHO.” 

How is Public health dentistry different from other streams?

  • Open workspace: We operate in the area where patients do not visit a dentist. We focus on people who do not visit dentists. In a way, we bring healthcare to the doorstep of the under-served. If I were to explain using a Venn diagram, it would look like this:

One-to-many relationships: Public health dentists deal with a large population and not individuals (a group of school children, a group of industrial workers, a group of farmers, a group of fishermen). We aim to reach the maximum number of people in any given situation.

Long-lasting marathon: Public health is a marathon and not a sprint. The results in public health dentistry take a long time to manifest. However, the results are more enduring, sustained, and satisfying. 

“Heart” of the matter

Coconut is an amazing fruit. Its outer covering or coir is thick, middle covering or husk is rather fibrous and tough, and the inner shell is “tough to crack.” But the water inside is soothing, lovely, and loaded with nutrients.

Public Health Dentistry is similar. From the outside, it looks tough. But from inside, it is sweet and loaded with experiences. The tender coconut water for me in Public Health Dentistry is empathy. It is that indomitable spirit to help others and make others’ lives.


I’ll admit. The job market for Public Health Dentists in academic roles and teaching jobs is shrinking. However, many new avenues have also opened up. Some avenues for a public health dentist include:

  • Public Health Administration
  • Tobacco cessation
  • Epidemiology
  • Medico-legal expert
  • Clinical trial
  • Biostatistician
  • Data scientist
  • Disaster management
  • Program manager
  • Research manager
  • Bioethics
  • Health Professions Education

How saturated is the market for public health dentists?

We are living in an era of super specialization, which is likely to become the norm in future. For Public Health Dentists, this may mean a requirement of additional training. Students of the subject should be willing to walk the extra mile.

Every discipline has gone through its fair share of ups and downs, its share of trials and tribulations. Public Health Dentistry is no different. With youngsters joining in the bandwagon of Public Health Dentistry and infusing the discipline with their enthusiasm and energy, coupled with the knowledge and wisdom of seniors in the discipline, I am sure that they will chart many new paths.

About the author

Dr. G.Rajesh is a Public Health Dentist and a professor at Manipal College of Dental Sciences, Mangalore. He is a passionate academician, researcher, and teacher. He likes to share his ideas, views, and perceptions through blogs.

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