Diversity in the Dental Industry
Compiled by Kristin Hohman
Despite small gains, the composition of the American dental workforce is not representative of the United States population at large. Although the industry has seen diversification, Asian dentists account for most of that change, according to the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute (HPI), whereas Black and Hispanic dentists are significantly underrepresented.
In fact, despite the changing demographics of dentistry, the number of Black dentists has barely changed at all over the past 15 years—accounting for just 3.7% of dentists in 2005 and just 3.8% in 2020, according to an April 2021 HPI survey.1 During that same time frame, the percentage of Asian dentists has grown from 11.8% in 2005 to 18% in 2020.1 The number of Hispanic dentists has seen very modest growth–5.9% in 2020, up from 4.2% in 2005.1
Why It Matters
Why does this matter? Well, for starters, research has indicated that certain career decisions are influenced by race and gender. For example, Black dentists are more likely to participate in Medicaid or CHIP programs.2 Overall, 43% of all US dentists offer Medicaid or CHIP services.2 Of that number, 63% are Black, 51% are Hispanic, 50% are Asian, and 39% are White.2 Women are also more likely to participate in Medicaid or CHIP programs—49% of female dentists compared with 41% of male dentists.2
This has obvious implications for underserved populations needing oral health care. According to a 2021 HPI survey of dental care utilization in the United States, 47.8% of White adults visited a dentist in the last year compared with just 28.6% of Black adults and 27.6% of Hispanic adults.3
Having a more diverse dental workforce doesn’t necessarily mean that every provider will look or sound exactly like their patients. But diversity does promote cultural competence. Cultural competency is a person’s ability to interact with people from cultures or backgrounds different from their own.4 This is important to increase awareness that patients may have values or sensibilities that may affect their perspective, and therefore, affect their health.
1. American Dental Association Health Policy Institute. Racial and ethnic mix of the dentist workforce in the U.S. April 2021. Accessed May 17, 2021. https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Science%20and%20Research/HPI/Files/HPIgraphic_0421_1.pdf?la=en
2. American Dental Association Health Policy Institute. Dentist participation in Medicaid or CHIP. August 2020. Accessed May 17, 2021. https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Science%20and%20Research/HPI/Files/HPIGraphic_0820_1.pdf?la=en
3. American Dental Association Health Policy Institute. Dental care utilization among the U.S. population, by race and ethnicity. April 2021. Accessed May 17, 2021. https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Science%20and%20Research/HPI/Files/HPIgraphic_0421_4.pdf?la=en
4. American Dental Education Association. Need for diversity. Accessed May 17, 2021. https://www.adea.org/godental/dentistry_101/need_for_diversity.aspx