Dental Tribune America

Number of pediatric dentists expected to grow rapidly

ALBANY, N.Y., U.S.: A recent study, commissioned by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), has evaluated the adequacy of the supply of pediatric dentists in the U.S. The findings indicate that supply of pediatric dentists is growing more rapidly than demand. The researchers suggested that growth in demand could increase if pediatric dentists captured a larger share of pediatric dental services or if underserved children had improved access to oral health care.

The Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University at Albany in New York state gathered data on the current supply and distribution of pediatric dentists relative to their patient populations. It then applied a workforce simulation model to predict future supply and demand to help ensure that 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 health care needs,” said AAPD President Dr. Kevin Donly. “More pediatric dentists mean more access to high-quality oral health care for children and more opportunities to prevent dental disease.”

Owing to nearly two decades of successful advocacy for federal support of more pediatric dental residency programs, the number of practicing pediatric dentists in the U.S. has nearly doubled, from 4,213 in 2001 to 8,033 in 2018, the AAPD reported. The academy believes that, if retirement and graduate rates continue at current levels, the number of pediatric dentists will increase by 62% in the next decade and will continue growing thereafter. Consequently, the supply of full-time pediatric dentists will grow from nine to 14 per 100,000 children.

The higher number of pediatric dentists will be readily available to care for children with unmet oral health needs, the AAPD said. “More than half of children with public insurance are visiting a dentist for the first time ever, meaning half still lack care,” Donly noted. “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 health care.”

To increase the utilization of oral health services for children, the researchers suggest implementing changes in Medicaid policy affecting the quality or quantity of dental benefits for children and providing support for pediatric dentists’ participation in Medicaid programs. Additionally, the researchers recommend increasing the rates of referrals of children by pediatricians and primary care physicians, improving the oral health literacy of adults who are parenting or caring for young children, and narrowing the oral health disparities among certain populations of children.

The study, titled “The pediatric dental workforce in 2016 and beyond,” was published in the July 2019 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.

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