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Going Back to High School to Solve Dental Workforce Shortages

Long wait times for dental appointments due to workforce shortages are a growing issue, especially in Hampton Roads, Virginia. To address this, Virginia high school students participated in a Dental Health Summer Institute hosted by Old Dominion University and Delta Dental, aimed at sparking interest in dental careers.

Long waits for dental appointments are becoming a common issue in Hampton Roads, Virginia, and across the country, primarily due to significant workforce shortages in the dental profession. To address this growing concern, efforts are being made locally to inspire the next generation to pursue careers in dentistry. One such initiative is the Dental Health Summer Institute, a camp organized by Old Dominion University (ODU) and Delta Dental.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Virginia high school students gathered to delve into the world of dentistry, learning about teeth, setting up X-rays, and exploring various aspects of dental health. This camp, now in its third year, aims to ignite a passion for dental health careers among young participants at a time when the profession is facing critical workforce challenges.

Many Virginians are currently waiting 6 months to a year for dental appointments. Ensuring a robust dental workforce is essential for timely and preventive care. Jessica Suedbeck, RDH, BSDH, MSDH, an assistant professor and senior clinic coordinator at ODU Gene W. Hirschfeld School of Dental Hygiene, explained that the pandemic exacerbated existing workforce shortages, with many professionals leaving the field. Data from the Virginia Dental Association indicate an imbalance between licensed dentists and hygienists, with significantly fewer hygienists entering the workforce compared to dentists.

Efforts to combat this shortage include increasing class sizes in dental hygiene programs, implementing public policy changes, and expanding membership in the Dentist and Dental Hygienist Compact to allow more flexibility for professionals to practice across state lines. The Dental Health Summer Institute is one of several initiatives aimed at boosting interest and diversity in the dental profession, ultimately striving to reduce wait times and improve access to quality dental care. Click here to read more.

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