The U.S. will run short of dentists in two years, a study commissioned by the not-for-profit Delta Dental Plans Association has predicted. Retirement and career changes could outpace dentist school graduation beginning in 2012, the study found.
Researchers from an independent research firm, the Long Group, looked at current dentist retirement rates and survey responses from dentists who expressed a desire to make a career change within the next five to 10 years. They compared those numbers with the current dentist school graduation rate.
Projecting these trends into the future, the researchers found that the 2009 dentist population of about 179,600 will increase through 2011. But retirement and career changes could outpace dentist school graduation beginning in 2012. By 2019, the dentist population could be smaller by nearly 7,000, assuming consistent dental school graduates of 4,500 annually.
The research firm surveyed a national sample of more than 1,300 dentists by phone and online in late July 2009, according to Delta Dental Plans spokesman Chris Pyle. "The Long Group did not consider the effect of new dental schools coming online because they did not feel that they had sufficient information to make good projections," he wrote in an e-mail to DrBicuspid.com. "However, in looking at some basic enrollment potential, it appears that a gap will still remain."
In a Delta Dental Plans press release, the organization described its efforts to encourage dentists to serve in parts of the country where there are particular shortages.
It cites figures from the American Dental Education Association that dental school graduates enter the workforce with an average of $170,000 of debt. "Increasingly, a dentist that is willing to practice in a federally designated dental health professional shortage area can see $80,000 to $100,000 of debt wiped away over three to five years," Delta Dental Plans stated.
For example, it cites Fulfilling Iowa's Need for Dentists (FIND) program, funded jointly by Delta Dental of Iowa and local business, government, health, and civic organizations that brought Arron McWilliams, D.D.S., to the city of Denison, population 7,000. "If it was not for the FIND program, Dr. McWilliams would be practicing in another community," said Don Luensmann, executive director of the Chamber and Development Council of Crawford County.
Delta Dental member companies currently support dentist school loan repayment programs in Arkansas, Iowa, South Dakota, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Delta Dental also invests millions of dollars in dental education throughout the country, the company noted.
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