CDC Dental Public Health Residency Program Spotlight

CDC’s Dental Public Health Residency (DPHR) Program, founded in 1996, is currently the only federal residency training program specialized in dental public health. Residents in this fully accredited program develop a training plan that addresses American Board of Dental Public Health (ABDPH) competenciesexternal icon, tailored to their specific needs using prior education, experience, and interests. Resident activities are designed to improve skills in the competency areas, using criteria for evaluating progress. Participants can expect to have a supervised field experience and an applied research project during their residency.

CDC’s residency program is unique because all 10 competencies are addressed. Participants are exposed to expertise from across the Division of Oral Health, with specialized knowledge in surveillance, with specialized knowledge in surveillance, infection prevention and control, policy, communications, program development, and program implementation during their residency.

Recent CDC DPHR Project Examples:

CDC DPHR At A Glance:

Who should apply to the program?

  • New graduates interested in pursuing a career in academia, health care, policy making, program administration, public research, or private research.
  • Established dentists looking to move into state or national program administration, public health research or teaching, health care, policy making, philanthropic foundation work, or relief agency work.
  • Military dentists who want to bring cutting edge public health strategies, research, and care delivery to veterans, military families, and current service members.
  • Anyone with eligible DDS/DMD and MPH degrees looking to specialize in dental public health or 1 of the 12 ADA-recognized dental specialties.

Resident spotlights

Jorge Bernal portrait

Jorge Bernal, DDS, MPH
DDS: Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia, 1994
MPH: Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, 2004
When were you in the program? August 2019August 2021 (part-time)
Current position: Sealant coordinator at the Oral Health Program, Georgia Department of Public Health (2009─Present)

How has the program affected your career overall?
“It really helped me a lot. The advantage about the residency is you can create your own curriculum. You focus on areas where you might need more experience in dental public health. I’ve worked in the public health sector previously, so I’m accustomed with several programs to a certain extent, however, there were programs that I wasn’t very familiar with. I dedicated time in the residency to learn more about those areas in dental public health. The dental public health residency gave me the tools and resources to accomplish that.”

Has the DPHR program improved your knowledge of the field?
“I’ve worked in the dental public health sector previously, and I believe public health is a key component; we need to continue to educate people. The mouth is in the human body and oral health is very important for your overall health. CDC is very committed to keep working on integration between the dental and medical aspects. I have confidence that my experience in this program has equipped me with the necessary tools for professional growth and job opportunities.”

What would you tell someone considering applying for the program?

“The residency will give you a lot of knowledge, tools, and resources to move your career in all facets of dental public health competencies.”


Shanele Williams portrait

Shanele Williams, DDS, MPH
DDS: Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry, 2014
MPH: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 2016
When were you in the program? August 2016August 2017
Current position: Simulation Clinic Faculty at LECOM School of Dental Medicine (Florida) Simulation Clinic, General Dentist at Turning Points

Why did you apply?
“I’ve always felt drawn to dental public health, particularly surrounding issues regarding access to dental care, oral health literacy, and the unique barriers to care for different demographics that contribute to oral health disparities. I knew that pursuing dental public health specialty training with the CDC would expand my skill set as a dental professional in a way that could lead me to opportunities beyond direct clinical care. I wanted to bring together my dental health knowledge, passion for working with the underserved, and public health experience in a unified career path to have an effect on the health of larger groups.”

How has the program affected your career overall?
“The residency program affected my career in a number of ways. One of the things I appreciate most is having more opportunities to pursue as my dental career evolves over time. I appreciate that specializing in dental public health still affords me the opportunity to continue practicing general dentistry as well. Over time, I plan to transition into a dental public health role that focuses more on leadership of oral health advocacy efforts, hopefully at CDC or in an academia-based position. Although I still enjoy providing direct clinical care to my patients, the dental public health training helps me bring more awareness to my clinical work, and it also allows me to blend other dental-related opportunities into my current work life, such as my ongoing research efforts regarding access to dental care services.”

Do you have any advice that you would like to share with potential applicants interested in the program?
“If one gets the opportunity to train with CDC in the Dental Public Health Residency Program, take full advantage of all the unique resources available to you. During my time with CDC, I had the opportunity to focus on more than just the dental public health competency areas. I also had the opportunity to do field experience with the state department of public health, and I had multiple opportunities to interact with state oral health directors and leaders in the dental public health profession.

“I would advise a potential applicant to review the 10 dental public health competencies and write out some specific long-term dental public health career goals. Then, try to determine the specific dental public health program that will make you more competitive long-term and help you achieve those career goals.”

Why do you think public dental health is important to study?
“I hope that current dental students gain increased exposure to the dental public health specialty, and I hope they better understand that it’s a specialty that allows you to still practice general dentistry. As the population size in our country continues to increase and advancements allow people to retain their teeth for longer periods of time, the need for advancements in models that expand access to care will continue to grow. I really believe the dental profession will experience a growing need for people who have public health expertise to complement their clinical knowledge.”


Shillpa Naavaal portrait

Shillpa Naavaal BDS, MS, MPH
BDS: Government Dental College and Hospital Nagpur, Maharashtra University of Health Sciences, India, 2002
MS, MPH: University of Illinois at Chicago, 2011
When were you in the CDC DPH program? August 2012August 2013
Current position: Tenure-Track Assistant Professor, Dental Public Health and Policy, School of Dentistry, Virginia Commonwealth University

Why did you apply?
“Dental public health has always been very interesting to me as it has power to affect health at multiple levels. The CDC program is a unique federal program and I never had an experience working at the federal level. I was the first international student accepted at CDC (DPH Residency), so that was a dream come true for me and a perfect way to combine my passion for dentistry and public health.”

What was the most important thing you learned during your time in the program?
“I learned so much, I wanted to apply my skills to answer a variety of questions, and CDC gave me a platform to do so. The most valuable thing I would say I learned was analytical skills. I always had a keen interest in working with data and doing population health studies, and the residency at CDC really allowed me to explore various national and state level datasets and sharpen my analytical expertise. I had amazing mentors who supported and guided me throughout to do my best. The other thing I learned most was teamwork. The skills I gained are irreplaceable.”

How has the program affected your career overall?
“CDC provided me with tools and resources I needed to be a better public health researcher. It connected me with the experts in the field who I was going to work with in the future. My passion for public health research was further fueled by CDC, so I credit my residency and my mentors with where I am now.”

Do you have any advice that you would like to share with potential applicants interested in the program?
“Anybody who is deciding to do a dental public health residency should have a passion for public health. In my opinion, public health is a hybrid and unique field because there are so many different paths that it can take. Identify the program that serves your interest; it may be research, program development, communication, service, or a blend of different things. Think about where you want to be once you complete the program and how you want to apply your training. Once you can answer these questions and find the right match, it will be the most rewarding experience!”

About the Program Director

Gina Thornton-Evans portrait

Gina Thornton-Evans DDS, MPH
Dr. Thornton-Evans is a graduate of CDC’s Dental Public Health Residency program and has served as the program director since 2017.

What makes the CDC Residency Program unique?
“The program offers a unique view of the dental health public landscape from a national vantage point. It offers exciting opportunities to work with state and national partners to develop and carry out effective programs for populations of every size and composition. Also, this is the only federal-level dental public health residency program, so residents will have high exposure to all of CDC’s expertise in the Division of Oral Health and across CDC during their time here. “Residents have ready access to national-scale data sets as well as the experts who gather, analyze, report, and use those findings to inform science-based policies and public health interventions. They have unparalleled ability to take data to action and enjoy national-level exposure for their own work. Program residents can expect to interact daily with nationally as well as internationally recognized experts as well as peers working at the national, federal, state, and local level.”

What do you enjoy most in your role?
“I have a committed passion for mentorship and training future leaders of the public health workforce. I have an ongoing desire to improve and enhance the residency experience and make the most of the program’s value to train future dental specialists and provide them with the skills to improve overall health and oral health.”