Study: Dentistry becoming increasingly representative of patient community, improving access to care

Research comes from Oral Health Workforce Research Center at the University at Albany's Center for Health Workforce Studies

The growth in the number of women in dentistry may expand the capacity of the oral health delivery system to better meet the needs of the population, particularly the underserved, according to a new  study conducted by the Oral Health Workforce Research Center at the University at Albany’s Center for Health Workforce Studies.

“Diversity within the dental profession is a widely embraced goal,” said Margaret Langelier, Oral Health Workforce Research Center co-deputy director. “One desirable outcome is that dentistry becomes increasingly representative of the patient community, which has been shown to improve access to care.”

In the study, Evaluating the Impact of Dentists’ Personal Characteristics on Workforce Participation, researchers used data from the 2014-18 American Community Survey to assess variation in workforce participation patterns among dentists related to certain personal characteristics.

Key findings included:

  • The percentage of active dentists who are women is increasing. Of the 148,878 active dentists included in the analytic sample, 31.1% were female. In 2009-13, only about a quarter of active dentists were women.
  • The mean age of female dentists (43.3 years) was significantly lower than that of male dentists (52.2 years).
  • Female dentists were more likely to be racially/ethnically diverse than were male dentists. Just 59.6% of female dentists were white, non-Hispanic, in contrast to 77.6% of male dentists.
  • Female dentists were more likely to be foreign-born (33.0%) and bilingual (35.5%) than male dentists (18.5% and 19.8%, respectively), suggesting more diversity in languages spoken and cultural competence.

The study found that the female dentists surveyed were more diverse in regard to race, ethnicity, nativity and spoken language than their male counterparts, Ms. Langelier said.

“Availability of culturally and linguistically competent clinicians may play an important role in addressing the needs of patients from different backgrounds or whose primary language is not English,” she said.

The percentage of dentists who are women is a growing trend that mirrors the makeup of dental schools, according to  data from the ADA Health Policy Institute.

The data shows that the percentage of dental school graduates who are women grew from 46% to 51.4% between 2009 and 2020 and the percentage of dentists in the workforce who are women grew from 24.1% to 34.5% between 2010 and 2020.

The workforce increase is expected to continue for several more years, according to HPI.

HPI data also shows that the dental student body has diversified over time, with more Asian and Hispanic dental students. Nearly one-quarter of dental students are Asian, compared to 18% of dentists overall and 6% of the U.S. population.

Established in 1996, the Center for Health Workforce Studies is an academic research organization based at the School of Public Health at the University at Albany, State University of New York. It is is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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