Growing the Dental Workforce

The Critical Role of Community Colleges and Workforce Investment Boards

Growing the Dental Workforce


This report examines how community colleges and workforce investment boards can help to expand the dental team and improve access to care for millions of Americans. It also offers guidance on how these institutions can cultivate support and leverage existing resources to develop education programs and employment opportunities for midlevel dental practitioners.

Growing the Dental Workforce” examines how community colleges and workforce investment boards can help to expand the dental team and improve access to care for millions of Americans Watch “Dental Care: Reaching America's Underserved” here.

Each year in the United States, tens of millions of people—disproportionately those with low incomes—go without dental care. A shortage of dentists is a major contributor to this problem. Not only are there not enough dentists in many areas of the country, but there also are too few who accept Medicaid.1

To deal with these shortages, a number of states are considering expanding the scope of practice for existing dental health professionals, such as hygienists and dental assistants, or adding another type of provider, like a dental therapist, to the dental team. These practitioners, who undergo a more narrow training and command lower salaries than dentists, can provide high-quality, cost-effective, routine care, particularly in areas where dentists are scarce.2

Building a sufficient corps of midlevel providers in the United States, however, will require new training programs and recruitment mechanisms. This is where the nation's community colleges and workforce investment boards—organizations that channel federal, state, and local funds to local workforce development programs—can play a critical role.

For example:

  • Community colleges are uniquely positioned to develop midlevel providers as a career option and to effectively train a geographically and culturally diverse workforce, representative of the communities most in need of greater access to dental care.
  • Workforce investment boards can provide critical support to change state laws to expand the dental workforce, to develop job opportunities among dental practices in underserved communities, to recruit candidates for training programs, and to connect graduates with employers.


1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Designated HPSA Statistics Report, Table 4, data as of Jan. 9, 2013. U.S. Government Accountability Office, Efforts Under Way to Improve Children's Access to Dental Services, but Sustained Attention Needed to Address Ongoing Concerns, 2010, accessed Dec. 10, 2012,

2. David A. Nash et al. "Dental Therapists: A Global Perspective," International Dental Journal 58 (2008): 61-70.