Although 70 percent of dentists and physicians are graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, reported by the U.S. Department of Education, there still is a considerably large gap in the amount of black dentists practicing professionally in comparison with their white counterparts. As a result, the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) partnered with the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry to create a National Pipeline Learning Institute (NLI) to recruit and retain more minority dental students in an overall effort to create a more diversified workforce.
However, the need for a diverse workforce is not only evident in the strikingly low 12 percent of black professional dentists, according to data released by an ADEA report. The need for more minorities in the dental field is also a result of a decade of research, conducted by the ADEA along with the American Dental Association, revealing that the vast majority of professional black dentists tend to serve lower-income and under-represented communities. In recruiting more black dentists, the NLI would increase a “cultural competency” among the workforce, especially as they serve underrepresented communities.
“In setting up practice locations, many dentists of color practice in urban areas and treat patients of color because oftentimes they feel an affinity and a desire to give back while also, the patient satisfaction increases,” said Kim D’Abreu, ADEA senior vice president for access, diversity, and inclusion.
D’Abreu further explained, “When a dentist or provider can identify with cultural backgrounds, it makes for more effective communication and welcomes patients into coming back.”
Undoubtedly, problems facing dental care have resided as a microcosm of the problems featured in general health care today, especially with the issue of affordability and accessibility continuing to surface. In a report released by the American Dental Association, 36.8 percent of low-income patients disproportionately suffered from tooth decay in comparison to the 17.3 percent coming from wealthier households. The gap also existed among minority groups where 31.2 percent of blacks were diagnosed with tooth disease compared to the 16.9 percent of white Americans.
Members of the ADEA have pinpointed this reality as a financial barrier among minority and low-income communities. “Preventative care is essential to contain costs associated with oral health care treatment and delivery…Those who wait to visit a dentist are more likely to visit for a costly health problem of emergency,” noted James Swift, ADEA former President.
The NLI program would essentially help to close this gap by offering new training programs and increased recruitment efforts to building a larger group of minority dentists, who would welcome lower-income and minority groups to seek early preventative care, according to D’Abreu.
As a result, D’Abreu noted, “Our dentists of color are taking more patients with Medicaid and with high need and are doing several strategic things to care for these patients.”
Paul Glassman, director of the Pacific Center for Special Care at the University of the Pacific and project director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which supported the NLI initiative, confirmed that the program would help in creating an outreach program that compensated for the financial barriers plaguing many of the minority and lower-income students interested in pursuing seek dental education. In addition to a three-day training and working heavily with underserved populations, the Initiative could be one that tailors its training to accommodate the needs of underrepresented communities.
“So, perhaps, if people were to see a more diverse array of dentists available, it would encourage more people to see dentists and seek dental care,” said Glassman.
Glassman explained, “The strategy is to try to take all of our dental students whether they are from underrepresented communities or not, and make sure that they have experiences while they are dental school working with a diverse group of patients and in diverse settings so that they’ll understand those populations better and understand those community needs better.”