Take These 5 Steps as a Dental Student. Not only will they help strengthen your application, but also help you decide if perio the right fit for you.

Written by Dr. Yvette Carrillo

About me.

My passion for periodontics began while I was a dental student. I felt that perio was the true foundation of the dental profession, because without a healthy periodontium, teeth and any restorative work done one those teeth wouldn’t stand the test of time. My intentions to pursue a specialty degree solidified when I started to learn about how oral inflammation had a systemic impact in the body. It was then that I began to take small steps towards strengthening my CV, and hopefully making myself stand out as an applicant and prospective resident. Because of that process, I’m passionate about helping others find their calling as well.

Are you a dental student who is thinking about specializing in periodontics and implant surgery?

These are my five tips for applying to a Periodontics and Implant Surgery Program:

1. Find a Mentor

A mentor is someone who will guide you, providing advice and encouragement throughout your journey. These are the people that will help mold and shape you into the clinician and person that you strive to be. They have carved their own path, made their mistakes, and are willing to take the time to share those experiences with you. Your mentor does not necessarily have to be in the same specialty you’re interested in, or even in the same field. What’s important about a mentor is looking for someone who is honest with you, has the time to spend coaching you, and offers constructive criticism to help you grow.

2. Does Perio Fit Your Philosophy as a Clinician?

Unlike medicine where specializing is a requirement, specialty practice in dentistry is optional and an additional degree. The ADA currently recognizes 12 specialty degrees. As a specialist in implants and periodontal disease, you will be treating patients with systemic diseases, motivating patients who have inconsistency of past care, helping regenerate or maintain lost gum tissue and/or bone, and replacing missing teeth with dental implants. 

Being a periodontist comes with a great deal of emotional, and financial responsibility. Because specialists are referral based, not only will you be a leader among your team, but in your community, and with your referrals as well. Financial burdens are also something to consider before specializing. Because most perio graduate programs are tuition based, they do not give students a stipend. This additional debt can be a financial burden in the long run. Really be honest with yourself, and have open conversations to decide if this is something you will enjoy doing for the rest of your career.

3. Engage in a Research Topic, Poster, or Project

Most periodontists have 1) a periodontics specialty certificate, as well as 2) a Master’s degree in periodontics or dentistry. In order to obtain the Master’s degree, all periodontists must defend a thesis in front of a committee. This process is long, strenuous, and tedious. Familiarizing yourself with the workflow that a research project entails as a dental student, can help you later on in residency. Research projects conducted as a predoc also show program directors and faculty that you are interested in evidence based dentistry. It’s an added bonus on your CV because it shows that you can later keep up with the didactic demands of a perio program. Perio programs spend ample time in class critically dissecting classic and modern literature. From the classroom to the clinic, lit gives you a blue print for treatment planning, prognosis, and surgery.

4. Cultivate Connections & Build Relationships

It’s important to find a place that you can call your home for the next 3 years. The faculty, the patient population, program dynamics, didactic and clinical experience you will gain are all equally important in building that home. Without proper nourishment and encouragement for you to grow as a resident and clinician, no matter how great the program looks on paper, you’ll be miserable, and your inner light will never shine through! The only way of knowing which program is the right fit for you is by talking to people, reaching out, and getting to know the people behind the scenes making the program operate. Set aside time to visit schools, speak to residents, and immerse yourself in the culture.  Call or email programs you might be interested in, and see if you can shadow or do an internship!

5. Building Tools and Learning Strategies to Become Better at Taking Tests

Unfortunately, multiple choice questions, exams and quizzes are a thing. And, though grades are not the end all be all to get into a program…literature, problem solving, patient management, and treatment planning are elevated to a new level in residency programs. Until there becomes a better way to test our knowledge, competency and understanding of subjects, all we can do in the meantime is work on our studying and test taking abilities. My best advice is to understand the type of learner that you are. Various learning styles include: auditory, kinesthetic, reading/writing, and visual learners. Once you understand the type of learner that you are, you can develop tools to help you study, retain information, as well as learn how to relay that on an exam.

Hopefully these five tips can help you achieve your dreams and goals of becoming a periodontist and implant surgeon. In the next blog, I get candid and discuss how to make the “good on paper” attributes that you have as an applicant translate and shine through in real life.

Yvette Carrillo, DDS, MS

Yvette Carrillo, DDS, MS


Dr. Yvette Carrillo is a Board Certified periodontist and implant surgeon. She graduated from Loma Linda University School of Dentistry in 2015 and completed her periodontics and implant surgery training at LLUSD in 2018. She is knowledgeable in the latest advancement in dentistry such as digital implant dentistry, accelerated wound healing, microsurgery techniques, and modern bone grafting techniques.

Check out Dr. Carrillo’s independent blog as well at: www.theperiopocket.com

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