The latest findings from the ADA Health Policy Institute show that Black and Hispanic dentists are significantly underrepresented in the profession. 

The dental workforce does not reflect the U.S. population in terms of racial disparity, according to the latest findings of the American Dental Association (ADA) Health Policy Institute (HPI). The latest data finds that Black and Hispanic dentists are significantly underrepresented in the profession.

The HPI data shows that in 2020, white dentists made up 70.2% of the dentist workforce, whereas 18% were Asian, 5.9% Hispanic, and 3.8% Black. In comparison, 2005 data showed that white dentists made up 79.8% of the dentist workforce, while Asians made up 11.8%, Hispanics 4.2%, and Blacks 3.7%. 

With regard to enrollees in dental school programs, the data finds that diversification among Asian and Hispanic students has improved. Nearly 25% of dental students are Asian, compared to 18% of dentists overall and 6% of the U.S. population; while 11% of dental students are Hispanic, compared to 5.9% of dentists overall and 18% of the U.S. population. 

When asked about student loan debt for dental graduates, survey responses varied significantly by race. The HPI data shows more than 20% of Asian dentists graduate with no student debt compared to less than 1% of Black dentists. Black dentists graduate with the highest levels of educational debt overall, an average of $314,360 for 2019 graduates. The average education debt at graduation for white dentists was $283,046; Hispanic dentists was $286,437; and Asian dentists was $225,750. 

In addition, the data showed Blacks and Hispanics, across all age groups, are most likely to face cost barriers to dental care. And while racial disparities in cost barriers to dental care have narrowed slightly for children, they have widened for adults and seniors, according to HPI data. In 2017-2018, 54.8% of white seniors visited a dentist, while 40.5% of Asians, 31.8% of Hispanics, and 28.8% of Black seniors did so. 

Jessica Meeske, DDS, chair of the ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention, sees the findings are an opportunity to raise awareness around health disparities in the sector and educate ADA members. “The ADA has a historic opportunity to lead that change and work for improved oral health of every American through supporting oral health equity and reforms that ensure that anyone who wants a healthy mouth can achieve it, regardless of age, race, disability, and income,” Meeske told ADA News.