The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) expects the number of pediatric dentists in the United States to increase by more than 60% within the next decade.
Commissioned by the AAPD, the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University at Albany gathered data on the current supply and distribution of pediatric dentists relative to their patient populations. It then applied a workforce simulation model to anticipate future supply and demand and help ensure children receive recommended dental services.
“Pediatric dentists provide crucial oral health services to our nation’s most vulnerable populations—the very young, children from low-income families, and those with special healthcare needs,” said Kevin Donly, DDS, MS, AAPD president. “More pediatric dentists mean more access to high-quality oral healthcare for children and more opportunities to prevent dental disease.”
Based on nearly two decades of successful advocacy for federal support of more pediatric dental residency programs, the number of practicing pediatric dentists in the United States has nearly doubled, from 4,213 in 2001 to 8,033 in 2018, the AAPD reports.
If retirement and graduate rates continue at current levels, the AAPD adds, the number of pediatric dentists will increase by 62%. Translated into patient access to care, the supply of full-time pediatric dentists will grow from nine to 14 per 100,000 children.
Plus, the AAPD expects the supply of pediatric dentists to continue growing. If children in underserved populations face fewer access barriers, the AAPD says, then the higher number of pediatric dentists will be poised to care for the large number of unmet oral health needs.
“More than half of children with public insurance are visiting a dentist for the first time ever, meaning half still lack care,” said Donly. “Underserved children struggle with higher rates of dental disease. They are more likely to suffer from dental pain and require restorative treatment. That’s why we continually advocate for changes in health policy to reduce barriers to oral healthcare.”
The study offers strategies for increasing the utilization of oral health services for children, including:
- Changes in Medicaid policy affecting the quality or quantity of dental benefits for children
- Support for pediatric dentists’ participation with Medicaid programs
- Increased rates of referrals of children by pediatricians and primary care physicians
- Improvements in oral health literacy of adults parenting or caring for young children
- Narrowing of oral health disparities among certain populations of children
The study also found that the supply of pediatric dentists varies substantially by geography. The ratio of pediatric dentists to children is lowest in states with a larger percentage of rural populations. These results suggest opportunities for providing care in areas not traditionally served by pediatric dentistry, the AAPD says, particularly in smaller population centers where the need is great for oral health services for children.
“Now that we have more pediatric dentists, we can devote our efforts to encouraging them to practice in locations previously out of reach of specialist services,” said Donly. “The expansion of loan repayment assistance programs has helped place more dentists in designated Health Professional Shortage Areas. Children deserve access to the same high-quality oral health services no matter where they live.”