A coalition of dental organizations is urging the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to focus on four critical areas regarding the dental workforce: the dental team, student debt, diversity and underserved areas.
The coalition shared these priorities in a March 20 letter in response to the committee’s request for information on the health care workforce shortages.
In the letter to Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chair, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; and Bill Cassidy, M.D., R-La., ranking member, the dental groups thanked the lawmakers for their interest in workforce issues and said addressing these shortages is a top priority for the organizations.
The dental team: dental hygienists and dental assistants
To help dentists find candidates to fill dental hygienist and assistant positions, the groups asked Congress to support increases in funding for the Oral Health Workforce Development Program. The program helps build and train the oral health workforce and improves access to quality oral health care for those in need.
“Many dentists are small business owners and employers. And no dentist works alone,” wrote the coalition, which noted a January ADA HPI survey that found more than 85% of dentists found it challenging to recruit hygienists. “They are the head of a clinical team that also includes dental assistants and dental hygienists. Every member of this team plays an important role. Their work is essential to dental practice, and they also increase access to care by enabling dentists to see more patients.”
With the average new dentist graduating with over $300,000 in debt, the coalition urged the committee to support several student loans bills, including:
The groups recommended several ways to increase diversity in the dental profession, including:
The groups asked the committee to help draw dentists to underserved areas through:
The coalition also urged the lawmakers to look at the way health professional shortage areas are defined, noting the current model is “sorely outdated and inflexible.”
“When shortage areas are incorrectly defined, human and capital resources are improperly disbursed, policy is improperly focused, and bad proposals move forward,” they wrote. “Thus, those most in need are likely left behind in favor of others who may not need as much help. With an updated, technology-driven approach, we can better allocate resources to enact responsive policy that meets the unique needs of each community. We ask that the committee consider using a revised health professional shortage area algorithm, like that used by the ADA Health Policy Institute, that utilizes geomapping to locate beneficiaries, providers (with a particular focus on those accepting new patients), travel options, and times to care.”
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