Total educational debt for graduating dental students who carried debt in 2015 averaged $255,567. Yet relief may be on the way for practitioners in California, thanks to a bill that will improve access to funds in the state’s Dental Corps Loan Repayment Program by state assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles).
AB 2485, which received unanimous approval from the state Assembly and next will be considered by the state Senate, will allow awardees to fulfill the program’s required 30 hours per week at more than one location and provide fund disbursement upon acceptance into the program and at the beginning of each year in 3 equal amounts.
Also, the bill will remove program requirements such as the ability to speak a second language or 3 years of prior experience in an underserved dental area, making these criteria considerations instead in reviewing applicants. Authorized by the State Dentistry Fund in 2002, the $3 million fund has about $1.63 million available.
“The California Dental Association (CDA) wants to address these barriers so the funds can be effectively disbursed and help increase the number of dentists treating underserved communities,” said CDA President Ken Wallis, DDS.
Initially, funding was meant to be disbursed during 3 years to participants chosen by the Dental Board of California, which also was tasked with advertising the program to eligible individuals, seeking matching funds from nonprofit entities, and servicing the loan repayment disbursements in amounts of up to $105,000 per participant.
The first cycle began in January 2004 with 9 participants chosen from 24 applicants. Between the processing of a second cycle of applicants in July 2006 and a fourth cycle in 2012, only 1o more applicants were chosen for participation, with no more applicants since then.
The CDA is working with the Dental Board and Santiago to improve the program so the funds are available to dental school graduates who choose to practice in underserved communities in California. Many of these changes are modeled after a similar CDA Foundation program.
Each year, the CDA Foundation awards a new dentist a student loan repayment grant of up to $105,000 during 3 years in exchange for a commitment to care for the underserved. So far, this program has supported 16 dentists across the state.