The dental profession has been struggling for years with a shortage of dentists and the need for specialized care.
And now, a new report from the University of California, San Diego, indicates that some dentists are seeing an increase in patients who are seeing their dental care decrease.
According to the report, dental students and students in general have experienced an increase of about 300 patients per year in the past five years.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Dental Research, is based on interviews with more than 2,000 dentists, dentists in private practice and dental students in private and public practices.
“I think we have to acknowledge that dental students are very much in the public eye,” says Dr. Mark E. Johnson, a professor of dental medicine and assistant professor of dentistry at the University at Buffalo School of Densary Sciences.
Johnson says there are many factors that contribute to the increased prevalence of patients who seek care for dental problems.
It can be a simple issue, such as not having a regular appointment, or a health issue, or even just a lack of dental hygiene.
“But there are a lot of other factors that go into it,” Johnson says.
In the past year, Johnson says he has seen an increase among students in his private practice.
“It’s certainly not due to the fact that the demand for our services has increased,” he says.
The problem, Johnson believes, is a lack and a perception of it.
“In many cases, the people that are having a hard time with their health care are just trying to keep up with the Joneses,” he explains.
Johnson says there is a perception among dentists that their services aren’t available.
“They just want to keep their practice open and do what they do best,” Johnson adds.
“They are willing to accept a lower standard of care, but they have a lot more to lose if they do that.”
The increase in dental students is not limited to dentists who are struggling with a lack.
The report also looked at dental students who are considering entering private practice or dental school.
The survey found that about a quarter of those students were considering pursuing private practice, with another quarter considering entering a dental school after graduation.
“That suggests there is an increased demand for services by dentists,” says Johnson.
“The fact that they are willing and able to accept lower standards of care is really encouraging.”
According to Johnson, the rise in students in dental school is “good news for the profession, because it shows that dentists aren’t being forced out.”
Johnson says dentists should keep in mind that while the increase in students is concerning, it is not a death knell for the dental profession.
“I think it’s good for dental schools, because they have this opportunity to expand their practice and offer new opportunities to patients,” he adds.
Dr. David Davenport, a pediatric dentist and associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, agrees that there are still gaps in the dental education and training of dentist students.
“There is an opportunity to recruit and train more dentists to the dental school program,” he cautions.
“The dental profession, at the moment, is not providing dental students with the kinds of training that they need to be successful in the practice of medicine,” Davenports says.
“So the next step is to make sure that dentistry is recognized as a full-time profession in the future.”
Johnson, who says there needs to be more emphasis placed on the importance of oral health, also believes the increase is due to a number of factors, including the recent expansion of Medicaid, which provides dental care coverage for millions of Americans.
“When Medicaid is expanded, the dentists will be able to do some dental work, and the dentistry will be more competitive and able [to] compete for students,” Johnson points out.
“In a way, it’s a good thing because dentistry has been declining for a while, and I think it is good that it is back to its former self.”