Universities Want Dental Schools, But is Need There?

By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida
By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida

TAMPA, Fla., June 24, 2011 -

Does Florida need more dentists?

That’s the question at hand as the governing board for the state university system prepares to consider whether to allow more universities to offer dental schools. Currently, the University of Florida is the only state university that has a dental school, but at least three other universities are considering starting one.

The Board of Governors for the State University System heard a report Thursday on a Department of Health survey released this year that shows that there are enough new dentists entering the profession through 2050 to offset any attrition due to retiring dentists.

An estimated 3,054 new dentists will be added to Florida’s workforce every decade, the Department of Health study shows, which will more than offset any losses. And that doesn’t even include data from the Lake Erie College of Medicine dental school, which will open in Tampa in 2012 and graduate about 100 students each year.

But that same study shows that there aren’t enough dentists in rural Florida. Most Florida dentists work in South Florida, leaving rural counties in the Panhandle and Central Florida underserved.

“Southeast Florida has the most dentists,” said R.E. LeMon, the associate vice chancellor for academic and student Affairs. “There are from few to virtually no dentists residing in certain primarily rural areas of Florida.”

The Board of Governors will look more seriously at this issue at its September meeting. The University of Central Florida, Florida A&M University, and Florida Atlantic University are all considering opening dental schools and the University of Florida wants to expand its school.

“Whether we need more dentists and how we go about getting there is certainly something the board has to consider,” said Board of Governors Chairwoman Ava Parker.

One reason these schools are eager to open dental schools is they want to replicate the University of Florida’s successful – and money-making – program. According to a presentation by Teresa Dolan, a dean at the College of Dentistry at the University of Florida, the university took in $17 million in research dollars thanks to the school.

But, dental schools are also very expensive to create. The American Dental Association says in 2007 the average dental school cost $93,000 per student.

Florida has over 11,000 dentists and ranks fourth nationally in the number of dentists.

One reason dentists are unwilling to set up shop in rural areas has to do with Medicaid reimbursement rates, university officials explained. Because the reimbursement rates for Medicaid patients is low, dentists with huge student loans to pay off are reluctant to open an office in an area with a high percentage of Medicaid patients.

Florida universities should look at incentives for dentists to work in rural Florida, such as loan forgiveness programs, LeMon suggested. Universities interested in offering their own dental schools are pitching their programs as the solution to the lack of dentists in rural areas.

Florida A&M University President James Ammons said after the Board of Governors meeting that his school’s dental program would focus on providing dentists to low-income areas. “All of the unmet needs and issues are right at the core of FAMU’s dental model,” Ammons said.

The Florida A&M University Board of Trustees will vote on the issue at its August meeting.

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  • by Georgia Boy Location: Cairo on Jun 25, 2011 at 04:01 AM
    I'm not a U of F fan, but it seems to me that expanding an existing school would be more cost effective than adding new ones. If nothing else, there wouldn't be a dean, office staff, and the infrastructure of another department elsewhere. And producing more dentists will not insure they will go to rural communities or areas. Or as someone stated earlier, that they will even stay in Florida.
  • by Dr. Reeshard Location: Florida, USA on Jun 24, 2011 at 11:58 AM
    We DESPERATLEY NEED affordable dentist for the many many many people who cannot afford dental help. For some inexplicable reason, Dental Problems are not considered "Medical Problems."
  • by anonymous on Jun 24, 2011 at 11:47 AM
    With ALL of the rotten teeth and bad breath in town, say YES to a dental school. Can't understand why people here don't take care of their teeth. It is part of the rest of your body, you know.
  • by Hygentists Location: Tallahassee on Jun 24, 2011 at 10:57 AM
    Dentist nowadays are really just highly paid dental hygentists. All the real dental work is done by specialists now.
  • by roger Location: tallahassee on Jun 24, 2011 at 10:38 AM
    NO,NO,No, We dod not need more dentist!! The real question is How much grant,federal,or state $$$, will they get?
  • by Anonymous on Jun 24, 2011 at 09:52 AM
    Why would you ask if Florida needs more dentists. there are dentists that are retiring every year, and they should be replaced with new ones being trained. Also not every dentist that graduates in Florida will stay in Florida.
  • by Anonymous on Jun 24, 2011 at 08:21 AM
    Oh yeah, we NEED a dentist school. Pay no attention to the fact that a differential fee was passed and now allows a total increase of tuit and fees at 15%, so ADDING another cost to students to cover for schools to expand IS NO BIG DEAL AT ALL. You are dmaning our childrens futures because Presidents and board members CANT GO without pay raises over their few hundred thousand they earn every year. WHY not take a pay cut and use that money to fund your projects. Students are tired of beign cahrged things THEY never themselves use!
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