Journal Articles

Mertz E, Spetz J, Moore J. Pediatric Workforce IssuesDent Clin N Am. 2017;61(3):577-588.

According to the US Surgeon General, dental disease is among the most prevalent health conditions for children, and large disparities in oral health status and access to oral health services exist among children in the United States. In 2003, the National Call to Action to Promote Oral Health outlined the need to increase the diversity, capacity, and flexibility of the dental workforce in order to better meet children’s oral health needs and reduce disparities. Assessing progress toward the Call to Action, in 2009 the authors found only modest gains in workforce strategies focused on pediatric patients, and major challenges remaining. In 2009 the Institute of Medicine held a workshop on the sufficiency of the oral health workforce for the coming decade, which outlined the status of the dental workforce, and highlighted for the first time the multitude of new workforce models being proposed and tried. A special issue of the Journal of Public Health Dentistry entirely focused on the contributions of workforce innovations to delivery system redesign followed, with one of the key messages being that workforce design should be tied directly to meeting the patient care needs, with special attention to reducing disparities in oral health care, and in oral health. As 2017 begins, progress has been documented in children’s use of care primarily because of improvements in coverage through Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This article updates and synthesizes the evidence on clinical pediatric workforce models and discusses future directions and implications for health policy.

Langelier M, Continelli T, Moore J, Baker B, Surdu S. Expanded Scopes of Practice for Dental Hygienists Associated With Improved Oral Health Outcomes for AdultsHealth Affairs. 2016;35(12):2207-2215.

Dental hygienists are important members of the oral health care team, providing preventive and prophylactic services and oral health education. However, scope-of-practice parameters in some states limit their ability to provide needed services effectively. In 2001 we developed the Dental Hygiene Professional Practice Index, a numerical tool to measure the state-level professional practice environment for dental hygienists. We used the index to score state-level scopes of practice in all fifty states and the District of Columbia in 2001 and 2014. The mean composite score on the index increased from 43.5 in 2001 to 57.6 in 2014, on a 100-point scale. We also analyzed the association of each state’s composite score with an oral health outcome: tooth extractions among the adult population because of decay or disease. After we controlled for individual- and state-level factors, we found in multilevel modeling that more autonomous dental hygienist scope of practice had a positive and significant association with population oral health in both 2001 and 2014.

Mertz EA, Wides CD, Kottek AM, Calvo JM, Gates PE. Underrepresented Minority Dentists: Quantifying Their Numbers and Characterizing the Communities They Serve. Health Affairs. 2016;35(12):2190-2199.

The underrepresentation of Blacks, Hispanics or Latinos, and American Indians or Alaska Natives among dentists raises concerns about the diversity of the dental workforce, disparities in access to dental care and in oral health status, and social justice. We quantified the shortage of underrepresented minority dentists and examined these dentists’ practice patterns in relation to the characteristics of the communities they serve. The underrepresented minority dentist workforce is disproportionately smaller than, and unevenly distributed in relation to, minority populations in the United States. Members of minority groups represent larger shares of these dentists’ patient panels than of the populations in the communities where the dentists are located. Compared to counties with no underrepresented minority dentists, counties with one or more such dentists are more racially diverse and affluent but also have greater economic and social inequality. Current policy approaches to improve the diversity of the dental workforce are a critical first step, but more must be done to improve equity in dental health.