A Harvard School of Dental Medicine researcher found that expanding the dental workforce through NHSC would improve oral health in underserved areas.

New research from Harvard School of Dental Medicine, sponsored by the Delta Dental Institute, and published in JAMA Health Forum, finds that expanding the dental workforce in Oral Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) through the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) would reduce the risk of dental caries among children in underserved areas, improve care, and cut costs.

Lead researcher Sung En Choi, SM, PhD, studied the cost-effectiveness of expanding the dental workforce in underserved areas through the NHSC to evaluate the potential impact of having more dental practitioners providing care in those communities. Choi is an Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology instructor at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

“Our analysis suggests that expanding the dental workforce through the NHSC would reduce the burden of dental caries among children in underserved areas and address disparities in the social and economic determinants of oral health,” said Choi.

The NHSC is a federally-funded program through the Health Resources and Services Administration. It offers scholarship and loan programs to medical and dental students who commit to serving in HPSAs after completing their education and training.

Nearly 20,000 medical and dental clinicians currently serve at NHSC-approved sites in urban, rural, and tribal communities.

Approximately 65.8 million US residents live in HPSAs — dental HPSAs are defined by the ratio of dental professionals to the population with high needs, where dental care is in short supply.

More than 10,600 dental practitioners are needed to adequately supply the over 6,300 communities considered as HPSAs, according to Delta Dental.

“Having served in the NHSC on a Native American reservation, I know first-hand the difference an oral health professional can make in the overall health of those in underserved communities,” said Joseph Dill, DDS, MBA, and Head of Dental Science at the Delta Dental Institute. “The findings from this research will be instrumental as a framework for expanding the oral health workforce in a way that improves oral health and is cost-effective.”

Recently, the Delta Dental Institute launched a new campaign, Driving Greater Diversity in the Oral Health Workforce, to help increase the number of oral health professionals from historically underrepresented groups. A key component of this campaign is producing actionable solutions through data-driven research. These findings demonstrate concrete ways to expand the oral health workforce and improve health outcomes.

Photo courtesy of Delta Dental Institute