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Rural Health Information Hub

Workforce Model

To increase access to care, rural communities are using workforce models to address the challenge many rural areas face with recruiting and retaining dentists to practice in their communities. In rural areas, there are fewer available local training programs for dental hygienists and assistants, lower private and public health insurance reimbursement rates for services, and fewer employment opportunities for the dentist's spouse.

Rural workforce approaches to support recruitment and retention include:

  • Encouraging students from rural communities to choose dental careers by developing programs (often called bridge or pipeline programs) that introduce students to the dental profession.
  • Offering incentive programs to dental professionals who serve rural populations, such as tuition reimbursement and loan forgiveness programs.
  • Implementing externships and training programs in rural areas.
  • Matching dental students with dentist mentors who practice in smaller communities to expose them to opportunities in rural areas.

Examples of Rural Workforce Programs Addressing Oral Health

  • The Fulfilling Iowa's Need for Dentists (FIND) Project is an example of a collaborative program that is recruiting and retaining dentists in rural areas of Iowa. The FIND Project partners with the Delta Dental of Iowa loan repayment program to repay dental education debt for providers willing to work in communities that are medically underserved.

Implementation Considerations

A 2020 literature review found promising evidence that dental pipeline programs have a positive impact on recruiting students from rural areas to pursue dental careers in rural communities. Dental students from rural backgrounds report being comfortable in rural settings and feeling satisfied in their professional roles when working in rural communities.

Resources to Learn More

Access to Oral Health Care Services: Workforce Development
A list of state and community best practice approach reports with examples of workforce development.
Organization(s): Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors (ASTDD)

State and Federal Loan Forgiveness Programs
A collection of federal and state/territorial loan forgiveness program details for dentists, dental hygienists, and allied dental providers.
Organization: American Dental Education Association (ADEA)

The Role of Oral Health Workforce Development in Access to Care
Describes a public health strategy of developing an oral health workforce that supports accessible and available oral healthcare. Includes dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and midlevel dental providers when evaluating the workforce composition and projected supply. Offers recommendations to increase the capacity of the oral health workforce and best practice examples to illustrate successful implementation.
Organization(s): Association of State & Territorial Dental Directors
Date: 3/2019