Is Pursuing a Dental Residency Worth It?

November 14, 2022 | Maxine Betteridge-Moes


Many dentists and educators believe that a one-year residency is valuable and comparable to five years of private practice experience.

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“With any type of schooling, you learn the technical skills and the theory, but putting it all together is what residency is really about," says Dr. Weitzner, a former dental resident and now a clinical associate at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto.

Early career dentists can choose several career paths, and the type and variety of options available in dentistry may not be what you'd expect. One option upon graduation from dental school is a dental residency.

What does residency mean in dentistry?

A dental residency allows graduates to work with others in a professional learning environment. Dental residence programs are generally one year long, and though they are not mandatory, they can be a great way to sharpen your skills and knowledge base in different dental disciplines. Many experienced dentists and educators say a one-year residency is like having five years of experience in private practice. In the long run, a dental residency program may help you be successful throughout your career.

“With any type of schooling, you learn the technical skills and the theory, but putting it all together is what residency is really about," said Dr. Eleanor Weitzner. She completed a one-year residency program at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto before becoming a clinical associate in dentistry. “I think everyone should do it … it's a fantastic mentorship opportunity."

What are the different types of dental residency programs?

There are two types of dental residencies:

  • An Advanced Education General Dentistry (AEGD) is most often at a university clinic. It allows residents to perform more advanced and complex clinical procedures like periodontal and endodontic surgery. These programs can help give new dentists who are more inclined to work in private practice or graduate school an edge.
  • A General Practice Residency (GPR) is typically in a hospital-based setting and offers greater exposure to medically-compromised patients. There may be more opportunities to rotate through specialties, including anesthesia and oral and maxillofacial surgery. A GPR will also help residents gain more experience in geriatrics or special needs.

In Canada, there are 15 residency programs. If you are interested in a dental residency, contact each program to see if they fall under the GPR, AEGD model, or a blend of both. You can search the Canadian Dental Association and the Commission of Dental Accreditation of Canada for accredited training programs in each province.

What are the advantages of doing a dental residency?

Completing a dental residency is a great way to continue honing your clinical and interpersonal skills in a professional learning environment. It's also a great opportunity to be mentored in different dental procedures, learn how to manage medically-compromised patients, interact with other medical colleagues and network.

“It's a safe and supportive environment," says Dr. Weitzner. “I think it made me a much better dentist because it incorporated the technical skills I learned in school, but I also learned how to implement them for the total patient."

What do programs look for in a candidate?

All programs look at academic records, but the candidate's initiative, drive, and interest in the program are equally important.

When possible, do your research about programs that interest you and contact the program to find additional information. Dr. Weitzner says students should start thinking about pursuing a residency during their third year of schooling. She recommends volunteering at the residencies and speaking to past residents about the program.

Program directors want someone interested and open to learning, as well as someone responsible, caring for patients, capable and a good team player.

Are dental residencies paid?

Dental residencies tend to be paid, which can be another advantage when pursuing a fifth year of advanced education. However, there is a large variation across Canada in terms of salaries. According to the Canadian Dental Association, in Western Canada, the salary can be as high as $50K, whereas in Quebec, the salaries are lower, at around $15K. Other programs in other provinces pay residents approximately $30K. It's worth exploring the various programs to get an accurate idea of compensation.

Can a residency help when applying to specialty programs?

“It's not mandatory, but you're more likely to get in if you do the residency because it shows you're committed," says Dr. Weitzner. “It shows you put in the extra year and the hard work and want to learn. The extra year can also expose you to whatever specialty you want to apply to."

Residents also get a lot of face-to-face experience in treatment planning and discussing treatment with patients, which can be more challenging than dental school. Residents often complete their residencies feeling more well-rounded and confident as clinicians.

What does it take to be successful in a residency program?

“Make the most out of your residency experience. Delve fully into it, get to know everyone on staff, start following every specialty and absorb as much knowledge as possible," says Dr. Weitzner.

Don't be afraid to ask questions, ask for help or make mistakes. As Dr. Weitzner says: “This is the time where you make mistakes and how to improve from those mistakes."

What typically happens after completing a residency?

Dr. Weitzner says about 50% of residents go into general practice, and the other 50% apply to specialty programs.

Finding full-time employment after graduation or completing a residency can be difficult for some. Many newly graduated dentists will likely hold two or more associate positions to equal full-time hours.

However, for those that have completed a residency, the extra year of training is generally favourable and may give someone an advantage when looking for an associateship position.

To learn more about choosing a dental residency and for answers to other frequently asked questions, visit the Canadian Association of Dentists (CDA) website.

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