Transformative Approaches to Developing a Dentist Scientist Clinical Research Workforce

Research Training and Career Development Branch
Division of Extramural Activities


The goal of this initiative is to provide clinical research experiences and research training to dental students and postgraduate dentists to stimulate interests in clinical research and research careers. These opportunities are expected to provide flexible and engaging mentored research experiences, guiding program participants towards developing research knowledge and skills, producing scholarly products, and identifying career pathways that will enable them to achieve their professional and research goals. The initiative will support collaborative partnerships among dental schools and research-intensive institutions to enhance research training under experienced mentors and investigators. Programs are encouraged to leverage national networks, including the National Dental Practice Based Research Network (PBRN) and NIH funded Clinical and Translational Research Awards (CTSA) programs to augment opportunities for clinical research activities and training. The expected outcomes of this initiative are programs that engage students and postgraduate dentists in clinical research experiences and training that inspire them to continue research activities or pursue research careers, and enhance the development of a robust pipeline of dentist scientists dedicated to improving dental, oral, and craniofacial health.


Dentist/physician-scientists have made significant contributions to biomedical research and have served as leaders in academic, industry, and government positions. However, concerns about the reduction in the dentist/physician-scientist workforce may impact dental, oral, and craniofacial scientific contributions. Data through 2016 suggest that only ~30% of oral sciences DDS-PhD graduates enter academia and contribute to the dentist-scientist research workforce. Further, the 2014 Physician-Scientist Workforce Report cited challenges facing the Dentist-Scientist workforce, including the lack of research capacity in both established dental schools and new non-research intensive dental schools, and a lack of competitiveness of dental school-based researchers for NIH funding. In efforts to revitalize the dentist-scientist workforce, oral health leaders have emphasized the importance of engaging dental students in research activities while in dental school. In addition, it has been suggested that dental students who engage in research acquire the critical thinking skills necessary to evaluate and incorporate new knowledge into practice.

There is opportunity for dental schools to augment their clinical research capacity through partnerships with national networks, such as the National Dental Practice Based Research Networks and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Programs. A dental PBRN provides dental practitioners with a unique opportunity to participate in clinical research studies in their dental offices. The NCATS’ CTSA Program provides infrastructure, resources and opportunities aimed at strengthening the clinical and translational research enterprise. Engagement in the collaborative network of the CTSA Program biomedical research institutions has the potential to provide training to enhance the NIDCR biomedical research workforce and improve clinical and translational research approaches and processes in dental schools.

Gaps and Opportunities

There is a critical need to develop new approaches and models for recruiting, training, and retaining dentists in the research workforce, and for developing research pathway programs for dental students and postgraduate dentists to enhance engagement in research and to provide support for a research career trajectory. The goal of this initiative is to stimulate productive clinical research experiences and educational activities for dental students and residents in dental schools and inspire them to continue research activities or research career pathways after dental school. This initiative will support:

  1. Creative and robust models of dental student engagement in mentored research during each year of dental school that will build or sustain a student’s research activities over the four-year dental school program. The research experiences may be full time summer research experiences, or part time research activities during the year, over the four years of dental school.
  2. Creative and robust models of postgraduate dentists/dental residents mentored research experiences that complement clinical activities and build a strong foundation for clinical translational research. The research experience may be dedicated time during residency or postdoctoral research that accommodates clinical activities.

Structured programs will include coursework or workshops in clinical research, such as research methodology, including study design and analysis, bioethics, and team science approaches, linking basic science and clinical observations to support research to improve oral health. Research mentors are expected to include NIDCR funded investigators and dentist scientists, who contribute their research expertise and mentoring experience to the programs.

For dental schools that lack strong research infrastructure, have lower levels of research resources and NIDCR research funding, and lack experienced investigators, potential models of research training involve collaborative partnerships between the low resourced schools and research-intensive institutions. Such partnerships would provide access for students from low resourced dental schools to institutions with successful dental, oral and craniofacial research programs, have a substantial number of potential mentors with NIDCR R01 or equivalent funding, and model environments conducive of research career development for dental students. Research intensive institutions with oral health graduate programs would provide summer research experiences for dental students from partnering dental schools, or extended engagement during the academic year if feasible.

Establishing these collaborations is intended to provide robust research training by mentors with research experience and expertise and to facilitate peer interactions among the institutions’ PhD graduate students, dual degree DDS/DMD-PhD students, and dental students from the partnering institutions to support and sustain their research interests and activities. Research experiences, mentoring activities and courses for skills development should be integrated into the programs and can occur during the academic year. These activities should be uniquely designed to create excitement about scientific discovery and the relevance of research to improving oral health.

This model can be extended to provide authentic research experiences and training for clinical faculty at low resourced dental schools to support the development of research capacity at the participating dental schools. Research training could focus on developing the knowledge and skills to lead or participate in patient-oriented research based in dental schools and engage their students/residents in clinical research experiences.

The initiative would support clinical research training using a range of creative educational approaches including research experiences, curriculum development in clinical research methodology, courses for skills development, networking opportunities and mentoring activities. This initiative strongly encourages dental school collaborations with CTSA program hubs to benefit from the clinical research resources and training opportunities in clinical and translational research.

This initiative strongly supports diversity, equity and inclusion in all programs and activities.


This initiative has the potential to strengthen the pipeline of dentist scientist pursuing dental, oral, and craniofacial research by providing a range of opportunities for dental students, postgraduate dentists, and faculty members to engage in clinical research. The initiative is expected to build a network of collaborative partnerships between research-intensive institutions and dental schools with lower levels of NIDCR research activity and funding to inspire and recruit dental students into research careers and to build research capacity in low resourced dental schools. The initiative will help create a culture of research inquiry and collaborative science in dental schools leading to an increase in the recruitment and retention of promising dentist-scientists into research careers who will contribute to new discoveries that will advance the dental, oral and craniofacial health of our nation.

Current Funding Opportunities

NIDCR supports research training opportunities for dental students and postdoctoral dentists who are U.S. citizens, non-citizen nationals or permanent residents and are from groups under-represented in health research (see NIH’s Interest in Diversity, NOT-OD-20-031) and to develop their research capabilities under the guidance of funded mentors through administrative supplements: PA-20-222 Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (Admin Supp - Clinical Trial Not Allowed), NOT-NS-20-107 Notice of Special Interest to Encourage Eligible NIH HEAL Initiative Awardees to Apply for PA-20-222 Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (Admin Supp - Clinical Trial Not Allowed), and PA-18-837 Administrative Supplements to Promote Diversity in Research and Development Small Businesses-SBIR/STTR (Admin Supp Clinical Trial Not Allowed). In addition, individuals meeting the SBA definition of socially and economically disadvantaged individuals are eligible for support.

Research training for dental students pursuing a dual degree DDS/DMD-PhD is supported by individual Ruth. L. Kirstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) F30 fellowships (PAR-21-049, PA-21-050) and by NIDCR Institutional Training grants (see currently funded T32 and T90/R90 programs, and funding opportunity announcements PAR-20-044 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Institutional Training for a Dental, Oral and Craniofacial Research Workforce (T32), and PAR-20-056 Institutional Training for a Dental, Oral and Craniofacial Research Workforce (T90/R90 Independent Clinical Trial Not Allowed). In addition, dual degree dentist scientist can apply for funding to support the transition between predoctoral and postdoctoral research training under PAR-21-108 NIDCR Dual Degree Dentist Scientist Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Transition Award (F99/K00) and PAR-21-060 NIDCR Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Transition Award for a Diverse Dental, Oral and Craniofacial Research Workforce.

For postdoctoral dentist scientists who are U.S. citizens, non-citizen nationals or permanent residents, NIDCR supports research training under the Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship (F32) (PA-21-048) and on Institutional Training Grants T32 and the T90/R90 – the R90 component supports non-citizen dentists. Individual mentored career development awards are available for postdoctoral and junior faculty dentist scientists including: NIDCR K01 to enhance diversity in the dental, oral and craniofacial research workforce (PAR-18-359, PAR-19-160, PAR-19-161); NIH K01 to support re-entry into the research workforce (PA-20-176, PA-20-190, PA-20-191); the Mentored Clinical Scientist Development Awards (K08) (PA-20-201, PA-20-202, PA-20-203) and the Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (K23) PA-20-204, PA-20-205, PA-20-206). Postdoctoral dentist scientists (no citizenship requirement) who have less than 4 year of postdoctoral research experience, can apply for an NIH Pathway to Independence Award (Parent K99/R00) (PA-20-187, PA-20-188, PA-20-189), or dual degree dentist scientists can apply for an NIDCR Dual Degree Dentist Scientist Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00) (PAR-18-432, PAR-19-141, PAR-19-144).

NIDCR has two programs uniquely designed for dentist scientist research training: NIDCR Institutional K12 Dental Specialty and PhD Programs (DSPP) funded under RFA-DE-18-012 (see NIDCR Dental Specialty and PhD Programs (DSPP) (K12) and a new program to provide Administrative Supplements to Support Dentist Scientists Post Specialty or Residency to Develop Expertise in Dental, Oral and Craniofacial Research (NOT-DE-20-035).

NIDCR funding opportunities for research training, see Careers & Training page.


Last Reviewed
February 2024