Dental hygiene and dental assistant program enrollment fell below pre-pandemic levels, according to HPI.

Enrollment for dental hygiene and dental assisting programs declined from pre-pandemic levels in 2021-22, and the decline in dental assisting programs started prior to the onset of the pandemic, according to a new report from the ADA Health Policy Institute.

For dental hygiene programs, enrollment declined in 2020-21 followed by a recovery in 2021-22 to near pre-pandemic levels, according to the report. The information was taken from the latest data from the Commission on Dental Accreditation’s surveys of enrollment in predoctoral, advanced, and allied dental education.

There were 8,197 first-year dental hygiene program enrollees in 2021-22, compared to 8,322 enrollees in the 2019-20 school year, a decrease of 125 students.

However, with 54% of CODA-accredited dental hygiene programs located in community colleges, it’s important to note that community college enrollment has decreased across the board, according to HPI.

Given the nearly complete rebound in dental hygiene programs enrollment in fall 2021, HPI is now waiting for enrollment data for fall 2022 to study what might be a permanent effect on dental hygienist shortages.

For dental assisting programs, however, HPI reached a different conclusion. There is an ongoing decline in enrollment, but the pandemic does not seem to have accelerated or slowed the trend.

There are concerning patterns in enrollment in CODA-accredited dental assisting programs, including program closures, which occurred prior to the pandemic.

“This is not a short-term problem,” said Marko Vujicic, PhD, HPI chief economist and vice president. “In addition to the enrolment declines, we know there is a larger reset happening in the labor market with people reevaluating their jobs and careers. This is particularly affecting health care jobs, dentistry included, and is a trend that will be with us for several years.”

In addition to dental staff data, the HPI report found that dental school and advanced dental education programs’ first-year enrollment did not decrease due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both continued to increase slightly.

The data was published in the 2021-22 Dental Education Program Enrollment and Graduates Report, a new HPI publication based on CODA survey data.

The report highlights the latest information gathered by CODA’s annual Surveys of Dental Education, Surveys of Advanced Dental Education, and Surveys of Allied Dental Education. The full report is available online.

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