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Feature: Future of Dentistry Part 1: Nine Potential New Dental Schools In The United States

Nine New Dental Schools? - Reaction To The Economics of Dental Education Into The Future

In response to a dental-related death in 2007, the U.S. Government Accountability Office recently issued a scathing report about the state of the nation's dental education system. The report came about after Deamonte Driver, a boy aged 12 died last year in Washington when a tooth infection left unchecked spread to his brain. The fallout has revealed a whole new set of changes expected in the dental education system.

Among the changes suggested, the most noteworthy for Top Ten Nation readers is that the ADA (American Dental Association) and ADEA (American Dental Education Association) intend on opening up eight new dental schools in the near future (the ninth school we'll touch upon later). The information comes from the testimony of Dr. Jane S. Grover, first vice president of the ADA to the Committee on House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Domestic Policy.

In the testimony, Dr. Grover explains that the ADEA believes that there are not enough dentists graduating to meet the needs of the U.S. population. To address the issue, the report suggests the use of auxiliary dental personnel (Community Dental Health Coordinators or CDHC's) who would perform preventative procedures including temporization of caries. Additionally, the plan, cited from the testimony, involves (in addition to the 57 current dental schools in the U.S.), opening up eight new dental schools in the following states:

  • Arizona
  • North Carolina (Rurally focused - in the Eastern area)
  • Utah
  • Nevada
  • Texas
  • Wisconsin
  • Virginia
  • New England
We already know about a few of these schools and where they will open:
  • Arizona in the list refers to Midwestern University's College of Dental Medicine. This dental school matriculated the first graduating class of 2012 in 2008.
  • North Carolina refers to East Carolina University's School of Dentistry. ECU plans to matriculate it's first class of about 50 students in 2011.
  • New England refers to the University of New England in Maine. UNE is in the exploratory stage of opening a new dental school. The Dean of College of Health Professions has mentioned that the Board of Trustees has approved the planning for a school and that fund-raising has now begun.
  • Information from one of our blog readers, Dennis (1st comment under this post), tells us that Utah's potential new dental school will be located at University of Utah in Salt Lake City. It is alleged that medical students are currently taking their biomedical sciences with dental students from Creighton as a possible stepping stone to a full blown dental program.
In addition to all of the new schools listed in the testimony to the Domestic Policy Subcommittee, there is now Western University in California which is in the midst of opening up a new College of Dental Medicine. That brings the number of total potential new dental schools to nine.

What will this mean to the future of the dental profession? It appears that for now, most dentists agree that the new dental schools will start to fill the supply side shortages in the dental industry, and will hopefully not over-saturate the numbers of dentists practicing. Dentists, legislators, and those leaders with decision making powers need to understand that opening new dental schools simply creates new dentists, but does not address the distribution issues. Rural areas are suffering not because of a relative shortage of dentists nationally but because of dentists being concentrated in cities. Is opening up new dental schools the way to proceed? It is clear that new dental schools are required to meet the demands for the future, but for now, the slow process of opening new dental schools can potentially allow the ADEA and other oversight committees to "titrate" graduating dentists to an equilibrium that allows dentists and the dental patient population to be satisfied with the provision of dental care.

Economically, the opening of these dental schools should not significantly reduce the competitiveness of the dental profession as a top 5 income earner in the United States. The fact of the matter remains that the numbers of dentists in total is dwindling with retirees outnumbering graduates. If new dentists don't graduate, other allied providers such as CDHC's will continue to jump in to fill the demand. The only concern on our mind is that we hope that the 'new dental school opening' trend doesn't continue in disregard to debt loads associated with dental education and opening a small business. There is a potential that the income of the profession can decrease, leaving new graduates in unpayable debts with dreams of their own practices. Lets hope that the ADEA remains cognizant of that. See Part 2 of the Future of Dentistry series.

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