May 2020 Volume LV Number 3


Who is Counting the Dental Schools?

May 2012 Volume XLVIII Number 3

The delivery of health care services and more specifically the delivery of dental services has been a burning topic within and outside the domain of organized dentistry in the last three years. Influential bodies
including public policy makers, foundations, the ADA, dental specialty organizations as well as our own Academy have weighed in on an array of topics and issues relevant and specific to access to care. We certainly
have been very clear with our position; the dental home as defined – being the ongoing relationship between the dentist and the patient inclusive of all oral health care delivered – is critical to providing the single standard of care ALL children deserve and need. This unfortunately does not agree with the position taken by a small but vocal body of organizations that suggest two tiers of care are sufficient in the pursuit of their vision of improving access to care.
Workforce – which is at the heart of this debate – has, to date, not focused at all on the future growth of newly minted dentists graduating from an increasing number of new dental schools. The most recent schools including East Carolina; Lake Erie in Bradenton, Fla.; Midwestern University in Arizona and Downers Grove, Ill.; Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif.; Roseman University in Utah; a recently announced school in Missouri; and the University of New England in Maine collectively look to graduate over 600 dentists per year. This number does not include potential dental school openings in a number of additional sites discussed around the country. Additionally, each of these schools will provide workforce contributions from faculty and the student body themselves as virtually all these new schools continue to focus their energies on providing community based care to their respective local communities.

If the question of access to care focuses on the number of hands available, then I would argue that, between the Academy’s support of expanded function dental assistants and the significant number of new graduates, this will (for better or worse) go further than trying to create a new, untested and marginally trained workforce that will cost significant resources. Additionally, many of the new dental schools will increasingly provide a curriculum that is heavily steeped in community-based dentistry emphasizing the need to serve high-risk populations.

I hope the national debate on workforce moves away from the strong emotional feelings all parties have to this issue and begin to talk a more evidence-based dialogue that can truly deliver on addressing access to care. With the total number of national dental school graduates approaching 6,000, our policy makers listening to disparate groups need to begin collecting the facts when making decisions that must be in the best interest of the public and the patients we treat.