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Support for Disabled Dentists

Hand choosing a key

The possibility of ever having a disability no doubt seems at best a remote possibility to most dental students, new dentists and even practicing dentists. But, disability happens—not often, but if you are the one it happens to, it can be devastating.

Clinical dentistry is physically demanding in some very specific ways. Backs, necks, shoulders, wrists and hands that for some reason are vulnerable to injury may be challenged by a combination of position, repetitive motion, stress, and even leisure activities. Some impairments—a fine tremor, for example—would not be disabling for another kind of work, but may prove to be that for a dentist.

Some disabilities are temporary, and others permanent. The challenge for dentists who find themselves in this situation is to look for the possibilities in what may seem to be impossible circumstances. The ADA can help you with this.

Career Options

Could a temporary dental placement service help you keep your practice open and viable while you make a long-term decision about it?

Who might be able to help you think creatively about ways to reshape your career so as to capitalize on your internal resources and the rich experiences you've had?

  • Does your dental school have a career placement service available to alumni that could be a resource?
  • What about calling your state dental society to see if they can help you network with another dentist with a disability?
  • Would you be interested in combining your dental background with other expertise you may have, such as in research and teaching, dental consulting for an insurance company or a dental manufacturer, or public policy development and administration on oral health care?
  • Would additional education open some doors for you?

Could you continue dental practice by using adaptive equipment or adapt physically through retraining?

  • Have a professional evaluation of your functional capacity or activities of daily living, and learn skills for adapting. Large medical centers have such resources or your physician can provide a referral.

Practice Transition or Closure

The ADA has resources to assist dentists with a variety of practice transition issues.

  • Guide to Closing a Dental Practice contains information on closing a practice at retirement, on account of a disability that prohibits practice or as the surviving spouse. Included are sample letters to send to patients. To order a printed copy of the Guide to Closing a Dental Practice through the Council on Dental Practice, please call 312.440.2895, or ask for ext. 2895 through the ADA member toll-free number. 
  • The ADA Practical Guide to Dental Letters is a compilation of professionally written letters that can be customized and adapted to your purpose – whatever it may be. Updated to reflect the many ways in which we communicate, Dental Letters now offers sample content for news releases, blog posts, emails, Facebook and Twitter accounts, website content, and text messages, in addition to traditional letters. Book comes with a CD-ROM of letters in Microsoft Word format for easy personalization.
    • Contains template communications on the following topics:
      • Dentist out on Illness/Disability
      • Dentist out on Maternity/Paternity/Adoption Leave
      • Dentist Absence/Office Closed
      • Practice Closing—No Replacement
      • Retirement/Recommended Replacement Announcement
      • Dentist Replacement After Death

Staying Connected

Becoming disabled, even if you have to leave clinical practice, doesn't mean you're no longer a dentist. The ADA offers a Dues Waiver Form for continued membership to eligible disabled dentists. Completed forms go first to the local dental society for review and approval. Approved applications are sent to the state society. The state society then sends it for final processing by the ADA. Information on how to apply is available from your state association. Or you may obtain online the Dues Waiver form needed by your local society to determine your eligibility.

Need help? Contact the ADA Member Service Center at 800.621.8099 (7 a.m. – 6 p.m. CT, Monday – Friday) or via email at


Five ADA member group insurance plans offer term life, universal life, disability, overhead expense and supplemental health care coverage. ADA members can use our unique online directory of professional liability insurers. You may also call the Council on Members Insurance and Retirement Programs at 312.440.2885.

Diagnosis-specific information

National Library of Medicine

  • The National Library of Medicine indexes thousands of medical and life science journals (PubMed).
  • Call the ADA Library at 312.440.2653 or or ext. 2653 on the ADA member toll-free number for assistance in using PubMed or in obtaining journal articles.

Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

  • Chicago's Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is a premier source for information on disability diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and support.

Arthritis Foundation

Parkinson's Disease Foundation