Life as an Army Dentist

First Contact


Me hanging out in the field

Typically your first contact with an Army Dental officer will either be in the form of a letter or an in person meeting at a dental school. Rule #1 for all those interested in joining the Army as a dentist is ďdonít believe everything the recruiter tells youĒ. The recruiter (officer or enlisted) is not a denitst nor is he/she part of the dental corps. The recruiter knows nothing about the dental corps or how things work. Their main job is to get you to sign on the dotted line and if that means omiiting certain information that could sway you not to join, they will do so.

Why should I join?


He's leaving the Army with a BMW M3

The are a number of reasons why a dental student should join the the Army. The biggest reason for some is HPSP (Health Professions Scholarship Program). If you qualify the Army pays for you tuition/books/board tests/supplies and you receive a $15,000 yearly stipend. In the end the total potential amount given to scholarship recipients is worth over $200,000!!! And if you decide to leave the Army after four years you will have zero loans while your buddies are still paying $2000 a month for the next six years. Note: all officers owe an additional 5 years active or inactive reserve.

In addition the Army offers recent graduates the 1 yr. AEGD program. In this program students rotate through different specialites and learn more about dentistry through journal readings. All of the dentists I spoke with who went through the program rate it as excellent and have no regrets. BEWARE, by sending you to an AEGD program, you will be more likely sent to a field unit (Iíll address this in the next section). Just recently the dental corps is now accepting applications from NEW graduates for a variety of specialties as endodontics, orthodontics, periodontics, oral surgery and prosthodontics (this changes all the time though depending on need). At the current time the Army is having problems filling the latter three, especially pros.

Experience, experience, experience. The Army provides an excellent way to gain speed, confidence and skills to be an excellent dentist. The Army has a huge population of soldiers and familly members in need of dental care (note: you will only treat family members in Europe). You see it all! And in some cases, depending on the clinic you're sent to, you do it all! (Iíll get into that later). While my counterparts are dealing with the administrative nightmares of opening a practice, doing 70 % hygiene or just doing simple operative procedures, Army dentists jump right in with the lions. So far Iíve done lots of MOD amalgams, class I,II and III resins, endo, extractions and some perio (my choice). The other great thing about working in the Army dental clinic is you are surrounded by seasoned general dentists and specialists. I will say itís very humbling to be around so many skilled professionals and a great opportunity to continue to learn from them.

Why should I NOT join the Army?


Yes, the Army does use rubber dams, does your dentist?

The governement will own you! If you donít want to give up your freedom to get up and go, donít join the Army. Although you are a denitst, youíre a soldier first. So when it comes time to play soldier itís time to drop your handpiece and train. If you are lucky enough to get sent to Fort Bragg (like my poor friend) get ready to run 4 miles a day 3 days a week! One thing that the recruiter neglects to tell you is that dentists who complete the AEGD are more likely (but not always) to be sent to the field! These units are called TOE units. Get assigned to one of these units and watch you skills erode as you may spend up to 50% of your time in the Army in a motor pool. You see, the Army doesnít give you great training for nothing. Moreover depending on where you are stationed you can be attached to a unit that can deploy (PROFIS). One friend of mine was assigned to Fort Bragg and found out at OBC that he would be going to the Middle East for 6 months! However if you are lucky enough to be assigned to a TDA unit (fixed unit) things couldnít be better! Here you are in the clinic full time and Army Training occurs perhaps seldom to once a week (only 4 hours).

Another bad situation that can occur is if you are stationed at a base where residents are trained (Fort Hood, Fort Bragg, Fort Benning, etc.). Get sent there and you will be on the amalgam train big time. Yeah your speed will be incredible but your experience will be limited to mostly operative. Itís a raw deal but at least your school is paid for.

OK I signed up what do I do now?

Ok hereís where I give you my two cents. #1 rule, never wait for the Army, take the initiative to find out information. You can visit DENCOM and PERSCOM, both of which give you more information on the assignment process, list of dental installations and other information that you will find valuable. #2 rule, donít depend on your recruiter for information. All he/she is good for is photocopying your application and making sure important documents get to where they need to go. More than likely you will know more than him once you visit the PERSCOM and DENCOM. If you plan to apply for the AEGD, research the bases that offer the programs and know the potential places the Army can send you once you are done (Texas, Georgia, Germany, South Carolina, Kentucky, Hawaii or Washington). If you decide not to do the AEGD, make contact with the assignments manager at Perscom. Befriend him/her. He or she will be the most important person in you life prior to assignment. Know where you want to go, make yourself known. In doing so you increase your chances of being stationed at a decent post. Be an invisible, passive mouse and get sent to a place you will regret. BTW, if you are thinking about be assigned to Fort Lewis (Washington), Tripler (Hawaii) or Fort Carson (Colorado) as a new non-AEGD dental school graduate, keep dreaming!

What is Officer Basic Course all about?


OBC graduation.Can you guess the lifer that went ortho?

Hello fellow soldier or potential fellow soldier. OBC, Officer Basic Course, is a 5 to 8 week course designed to familiarize new officers with the Army ways. The course will begin for dental officers around July (for recent grads) and takes place in sweltering Fort Sam Houston. Before you even step on to the plane be sure to have 20+ copies of your orders and all other important documents as: immunizations, marriage certificates, power of attorney (for you married folks) and whatever else they instruct you to bring. Be prepared to waste hours upon hours being inprocessed in San Antonio and being asked for documents they never told you to bring. The key is to be patient and try not to get frustrated. With so many people coming and going in the military, it's no wonder why they are so disorganized.

During the first week all the dentists (there were about 70) have classes together (called the dental track). I felt this was a great time to make friends with people (dentists) from all over the country. However this coziness soon ends when the rest of the Army Corps are integrated: Vets, Doctors, ROTC Medical Service People, Pharmacists, Psycholgists and Physician Assistants. The total class size grew to 300+. This is when those boring miltary classes begin. You will learn about leadership and other unusable Army stuff that will NEVER, NEVER be needed as a dentist. We were bored to tears. Prior to class we all engaged in Physical Training (running your ass off). The Army is HUGE on PT. You better be able to do 40+ sit ups, 40+ pushups and run 2 miles in about 17 minutes otherwise you will be in for a rude awakening. Don't think you can do this just by showing up at OBC unless you are a previous athlete, especially in the humid heat of Texas. I personally had no problems exceeding the minimum (I did 88 push-ups, 68 sit-ups and ran 2 miles in 14:22). Basically the message here is be ready! As OBC nears the final week everyone gets to play soldier out in the field for a week. That means no showers and MREs (army processed food). The tents are coed and it is HOT (100 on some days). I'm not much of a camper so I pretty much hated the whole thing. Here's a list of some of the things you will do in the field: night and land navigation, assembling the M-16/M-9, working radios, litter course, repelling (if it doesn't rain), medical first aid, nuclear/biological warfare training and YES you get to get GASSED in the chamber. Now, provided that you passed all the coursework AND the PT test you graduate and report to your duty station.

Return to the Mike's guide to dental school admission