NIDCR Dental Specialty/PhD Program (DSPP)

Research Training and Career Development Branch, DEA, NIDCR


The goal of the combined Dental Specialty/PhD Program (DSPP) is to provide support for early career stage dentist scientists to prepare them for research careers as highly skilled investigators and leaders in the full scope of dental, oral and craniofacial health research.

The DSPP program is targeted to promising dentist scientists who have recently completed their clinical training and are seeking advanced clinical knowledge and skills development in a recognized dental specialty as well as mentored research training leading to a PhD in biomedical or biobehavioral science, or in another field applicable to dental, oral and craniofacial research. The program will prepare them to lead vibrant and active research programs in basic, translational or clinical research, participate as expert investigators in a multidisciplinary team science approach, and forge partnerships and provide leadership in clinical and translational research among academic partners, community practitioners and professional organizations. The combined and integrated dental specialty and PhD training program is intended to support a unique dentist scientist research career pathway and ensure a supportive environment for both specialty and PhD training. The program is expected to accelerate the process of achieving competencies in both areas, and to facilitate transition to an independent research career.


NIDCR had a long history of supporting programs to prepare dentists for careers as clinical research scientists in oral health, including the Dental Scientist Award (DSA) program established in 1984. In 1996, along with changes in NIH career development grants policy1, the Dental Scientist Type Awards were phased out. However, NIDCR offers the Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award (K08) to support mentored research training experiences for dentists that lead to a biomedical or biobehavioral PhD degree.

Since 2012, two studies of the research workforce were led by the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD). The first study targeted the biomedical workforce, and the second study, conducted by the Physician Scientist Workforce (PSW) Working Group2, was a follow-on study focused on physician scientist training and career paths. The PSW Working Group report (June, 2014) describes key finding and challenges, puts forth nine recommendations to enhance and maintain the physician-scientist pipeline and workforce, and includes a summary of dentist-scientist specific challenges (page 72). Recommendations that address challenges facing all clinician scientists include:

  • NIH should establish a new physician-scientist-specific granting mechanism to facilitate the transition from training to independence.
  • NIH should support pilot grant programs to rigorously test existing and novel approaches to improve and/or shorten research training for physician-scientists.

The proposed NIDCR DSPA program is designed to address these challenges. Providing dental specialty training and rigorous research training is expected to result in a critical mass of clinician researchers as faculty, enabling them to maintain a vibrant research program, contribute to the NIDCR and NIH research mission, and mentor future generations of clinicians and researchers.

Characteristics of the proposed DSPA program:

  • The program should provide leadership in developing future academic clinician research scientists and be supported by a strong foundation of research activity, research resources, infrastructure and institutional support.  Further, a well mapped out specialty program, supported independently of the NIDCR supported DSPP is required. 
  • The program should develop and maintain clinical research partnerships with other components of academic health centers, the practicing community, and other sites that support multidisciplinary research teams and clinical and translational research approaches to improving dental, oral and craniofacial health. 
  • The DSPP program requires 100% effort, and supports an integrated research and clinical specialty training program that leads to a PhD and a certificate and/or masters in a dental specialty recognized by the American Dental Association. The total length of the combined specialty and PhD programs should be less than if an individual pursued dental specialty training and PhD training separately.
  • NIDCR will support PhD research training. Non-PHS/NIH sources will support clinical specialty training. Dental schools have flexibility in determining the phasing and integration of their proposed specialty and PhD training program.

Alignment with Institute Goals and Strategic Plan

The goals of this initiative align with the NIDCR Strategic Plan 2014–2019:  Objective 4-1 Collaborate with academic institutions, especially schools of dentistry, to create research pathways for faculty and trainees. NIDCR believes that a variety of flexible and innovative research training and career development programs is needed to recruit and retain experts with the appropriate skills to conduct oral health research in an increasingly complex environment.

Current Portfolio Overview

NIDCR currently supports a number of individual and institutional research training and career development programs that dentists may use to pursue mentored research training experiences within a broad range of approaches and scientific disciplines conducting dental, oral and craniofacial research.  Eligible individuals including dentists, with or without a PhD, and/or dental specialty training.

  • Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Postdoctoral Fellows (F32)
  • Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Institutional Training Grant postdoctoral appointments for citizens (T32, T90) and Institutional Research Education appointment for non-citizens (R90)
  • NIDCR Mentored Career Development Award to Promote Diversity in the Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Research Workforce (K01)
  • Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (Parent K01) NIDCR uses this award to support individuals who are seeking re-entry into the research workforce
  • Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award (K08)
  • Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (K23)
  • NIDCR Dual Degree Dentist Scientist Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00) Dentists who have a PhD degree are eligible for this award
  • NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00) NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R0). Dentists who do not have a PhD degree are eligible for this award.

The proposed DSPP program fills a gap in current research training opportunities by providing a pathway tailored to dentists pursing an integrated postdoctoral dental-specialty training and PhD research training. This program is expected to recruit, educate and train future scientific leaders in academic dentistry, and to maintain a critical mass of investigators with a unique and intimate knowledge of dental-oral craniofacial biology who can participate in multidisciplinary research teams, work across organizations including industry and the communities we serve, and provide leadership in improving dental, oral and craniofacial health.


NIDCR Strategic Plan 2014–2019

PSW Working Group Report June 2014 

Full set of data and graphs of the PSW Report accessible from NIH RePORT website

The Advisory Committee to the NIH Director’s Biomedical Workforce (BMW) Working Group Report June 2012

Report on NIDCR Research Training and Career Development Programs May 2008

Giannobile WV, Joskow RW. 2012. Clinical and translational oral health research: prospects for the future; Clinical and Translational Oral Health Research J Dent Res.  91 (7):633-6.

Lipton JA,  and Kinane DF 2011. Total NIH Support to US Dental Schools, 2005-2009 J Dent Res. 90 (3):283-288. 

Lipton JA. 1996. The Dentist Scientist Award program and prosthodontics. J Prosthet Dent. 75 (6):666-70.

Polverini, PJ 2011. Shaping the Future of the Dental Profession through Research and Discovery. J Dent Res. (90) 281-282.

Wise GE, 1997. The road less traveled – the decline in number of clinical researchers. J Dent Res.  (76) 1428-1429.

The Mission of Research. Institute of Medicine. Dental Education at the Crossroads: Challenges and Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1995. doi:10.17226/4925. Chapter 7 Oral Health

Personnel Needs and Training  for Biomedical and Behavioral Research.  The 1985 Report of the Committee on National Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Research Personnel. Institute of Medicine,  National Academy of Sciences, National Academy Press, Washington, DC 1985.

Definitions of Recognized Dental Specialties




1Revision of NIH Career Development Grant Mechanisms April 28, 1995

2“Physician Scientist” is inclusive of all clinician scientists, e.g., physician- scientists, dentist- scientists, nurse- scientists, veterinarian- scientists.

Last Reviewed
July 2018