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Lawmakers discuss dental workforce at congressional hearing

Dentistry and its workforce shortage were highlighted April 19 during a hearing held by the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee.

The hearing, “Examining Existing Federal Health Programs to Build a Stronger Health Workforce and Improve Primary Care,” included the testimony of Carole Johnson, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Ms Johnson discussed the reauthorization of programs within HRSA, many of which expire Sept. 30.

Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., specifically questioned Ms. Johnson on what HRSA is doing to address the dental industry workforce. She cited ADA Health Policy Institute data that shows one in three dentists do not have full appointment schedules because of staffing issues.

“The worker shortage and the dental sector is not exempt from these workforce challenges currently being discussed. The shortage of dental providers impacts patients access to oral health care across the country,” said Rep. Barragán. “In fact, research by the ADA’s Health Policy Institute indicates that one in three dentists do not have full appointment schedules because of staffing issues. What is HRSA doing to address the dental industry workforce shortages, particularly with respect to dental hygienist sand does HRSA have plans to reopen any of the oral health training programs such as this state oral health workforce program?”

“Far too often oral health gets overlooked when we talk about critical health care issues, and it is essential to overall health and is a place where we need to make sure that there are providers in underserved and rural communities,” Ms. Johnson said. “Dentists and dental hygienists are part of the National Health Service Corps. Dentistry is also an eligible discipline in the teaching health center GME programs. So we are training dentists directly and we are supporting loan repayment for dentists to get into the communities in need. And as you mentioned, we have our discretionary programs as well. And we are we are in that regard, limited by appropriations. And so we will do what appropriations resources allow us to do in that regard.”

ADA leaders were pleased that the workforce issue has been elevated.

“We’re happy and encouraged that legislators at the federal level are recognizing what a problem this is,” said Dan Gesek, Jr., D.M.D., chair of the ADA Council on Government Affairs. “We thank Rep. Barragán for elevating the conversation about dental workforce and putting it at the forefront of the conversation.”

The ADA sent a letter to Congress in support of one of the bills discussed in this hearing, the Doctors of Community Act, which would extend and expand the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program. The Association will also continue to lobby Congress on workforce issues, including programs that incentivize dentists to practice in rural and underserved areas, as well as programs to train more assistants and hygienists.

Follow all of the ADA’s advocacy efforts at ADA.org/advocacy.


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