Student Debt and Gender Equality Dominate Today’s Trends in Dental Schools

Dentistry Today


The American Dental Education Association (ADEA) has released its Snapshot of Dental Education 2019-20, highlighting key trends involving student debt, the numbers of dental graduates, today’s demographics, career paths, licensure, and more experienced by today’s dental students.

Student debt continues to be a major issue, with an average of $292,169 in 2019. According to the ADEA, 39% of today’s graduates carry $300,000 in debt or more, with a sample monthly payment of $3,910. Also, 25% of graduates carry $200,000 to $300,000, with a sample monthly payment of $3,235. Only 17% of graduates have no debt at all.

The ADEA also cautions that the number of dental school graduates has not kept pace with the growing United States population over the past several decades, with 2.4 dental grads per 100,000 people in 1978 versus 1.9 graduates per 100,000 in 2018. The numbers of graduates in dental hygienist, dental assistant, and dental laboratory schools have fluctuated.

There’s more gender equality among students now, with women comprising 50.5% of today’s graduating classes, and men comprising 48.7%. Students who prefer not to report gender, do not identify as male or female, or whose gender was not available make up the remaining 0.7% of the surveyed population.

Career paths are changing. In 2016, 50.5% of graduates indicated that they were going into private practice. That dropped to 48.0% in 2019. Of those students going into private practice, 42.0% said they planned on joining an existing private practice as an associate. That rose to 58.5% by 2019.

Similarly, 14.5% of graduates said they were planning on employment with a dental service organization (DSO) in 2016, and that increased to 18.1% in 2019. Non-DSO group practices with multiple locations were the destination for 16.5% in 2016, dropping to 2.8% in 2019. Only 4.5% said they would establish a new practice in 2016, with 5.1% taking that path in 2019. 

Dental school itself remains challenging, with 89% of students saying they feel overwhelmed, but 87% still finding their work to be a positive challenge. Students are dealing with this stress as well, with 70% satisfied by the mental health services at their schools, and 69% satisfied with their school’s programs designed to promote stress management.

Finally, licensure remains a concern. The ADEA has teamed up with the ADA and the American Student Dental Association to issue a state-by-state call for increased licensure portability and the elimination of single-encounter, procedure-based examinations on patients as part of the licensure process in favor of clinical assessments with stronger validity and reliability.

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