Reforming Dental Workforce Education and Practice in the USA

An evaluation of the Dental Pipeline, Profession, and Practice Community-Based Dental Education program’s (Pipeline) impact on dental school seniors’ public service plans found that while overall the program lacked significant impact, students’ access to loan repayment programs was the chief predictor of their plans for public service.

The Pipeline program in dental schools aimed to address the dearth of dental graduates entering public service by emphasizing community-based dental education and practice. The authors used data from the American Dental Education Association Survey of Dental School Seniors to examine predictors of the public service plans of dental school seniors in schools both within and outside the Pipeline program.

Dental students’ access to loan repayment programs most significantly determined their public service plans. Other predictors included having lower family income, seeing themselves as prepared to care for a diverse range of patients or valuing their extramural clinical experience. Increasing educational debt was the most significant barrier to public service; other barriers were having a higher family income or having been convinced to pursue dentistry by friends or relatives.

The authors suggest that sustaining or increasing existing loan repayment programs may motivate dental students to enter public service. In the long term, the authors recommend workforce reform modeled after existing licensing programs for physician assistants or advance practice registered nurses.