Dental schools can't afford to hire professors, students can't afford to serve the poor, and millions of Americans do not have access to dental care, American Dental Education Association (ADEA) president James Q. Swift D.D.S. told a Senate Committee last week.
He asked the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions for millions of dollars. His comments came at a hearing for the reauthorization of Title VII of the Public Health Service Act, which funds programs for dentistry training and student diversity.
Last year there were 406 vacant faculty positions at U.S. dental schools, Dr. Swift told the committee. The shortage of dental faculty can become a serious problem as more schools open. Recently Arizona, Nevada, and Florida have opened dental schools, while plans are underway in California, North Carolina, and New Mexico.
"Profound disparities in the oral health of the nation’s population have resulted in a ‘silent epidemic'," says Dr. Swift. "These disparities, in combination with the current shortage of dental school faculty, the scarcity of underrepresented minority dentists, and the need to draw dentists to practice in rural and underserved communities, make this committee’s examination timely and necessary. "
He also called for the restoration of nearly $50 million recently cut from low-interest health student loan programs, and an increase in the aggregate unsubsidized Stafford Loan limits so dental students are not forced into taking more expensive options like GradPLUS or private loans.
"[Because of] the staggering debt new dentists have upon graduating, many seek practice opportunities in relatively affluent areas where they are likely to earn higher salaries," says Dr. Swift. "This cycle has repeated itself year after year leaving underserved areas chronically understaffed."
Dr. Swift asked the committee to pass Deamonte’s Law which would mean $5 million in grants to support training for dental students, dental residents, and dental hygiene students in oral healthcare to children.
He also pushed the senators to include dentistry in three Title VII programs for which dental institutions are currently ineligible -- the Academic Administrative Units in Primary Care, Faculty Development in Primary Care, and Predoctoral Training Programs. Finally he encouraged the Senate to fund more dentistry for the poor.
"We must acknowledge that the current dental workforce is unable to meet present day demand and need for dental care," says Dr. Swift.
For a full list of his recommendations click here and scroll down to page nine in the PDF, to the heading "Recommendations to Address Dental Workforce Challenges."