Education, Workforce, and Planning for the Future

Education, Workforce, and Planning for the Future

Edward J. Vigna, D.D.S.*:

Before I share some of the latest happenings from the American Dental Association’s Board of Trustees, I must first say a most sincere thank you to the Minnesota Dental Association. I returned yesterday from the MDA’s Star of the North Meeting, and GREAT sums it up best: great meeting, great hospitality, and great friends. Each time I visit Minnesota, the warm welcome extended me is very much appreciated.

I believe that in my last message, I mentioned the four areas of focus for the Board of Trustees (BOT) this year. At our April Board meeting, we heard special presentations in two of these areas: education and workforce.

Education Under the Microscope

As you may be aware, there are many new dental schools opening, and many more are potentially on the horizon. All of these schools fall into what could be referred to as a non-traditional model. Two deans, Dr. Ira Lamster of Columbia University, and Dr. Jack Dillingberg of A.T. Still University of Arizona, gave most interesting presentations contrasting their respective schools. The traditional model, Columbia, provides interdisciplinary collaboration with other colleges within the university system, more full-time faculty, graduate programs, and extensive research. The non-traditional model, A.T. Still, consists of many visiting faculty, no graduate programs, and little if any research. The non-traditional model also sees most of the clinic training, especially in the fourth year, done away from the actual dental school. Some but not all of the new openings will be affiliated with schools of osteopathic medicine. Both deans made compelling cases for why his model may be the most effective. At the same time, each recognized the merits of the opposite model.

My concerns herein are need, cost, and of course, quality. Do we really need all these new schools? Most indicators do not point to a dental manpower shortage of great concern in the near future. Flooding the market with the hope that many of the new dentists will flock to underserved areas may give no more than false hope. Early indications are that tuition in the new schools will be significant, thus furthering our problem of skyrocketing student debt. If this is the case, maximizing income to service that debt may prevent individuals from considering the possibility of seeing more underserved populations. Of course, quality must be the constant. Both sides profess well trained and educated students with outstanding board scores and high pass rates on licensing exams. As you can see, this is a complex issue and one over which we as an association do not have much control. We must be informed about what is happening in dental education and voice our opinion in a constructive manner.


The final day of the meeting was focused on discussing barriers to [dental] care. It is the intention of the Board to refocus the national discussion of care for the underserved to “barriers to care”, as opposed to the foundations’ - i.e., Kellogg and Pew – emphasis on “workforce”, which is only one of the barriers. We reviewed historical and projected statistical data in an attempt to forecast future trends and oral health needs. Educational models and programs, new technologies, demographics, and a host of other factors will all impact the future of dentistry. The ADA published and promoted it first “white paper” stating our position on workforce, and rebutting inaccuracies being promoted by other groups earlier this year. The next publication dealing with the dental safety net is scheduled to be published in early July. The plan is to publish a white paper each quarter for the foreseeable future in order to fully document the barriers that affect access to dental care. This undertaking should reposition the ADA at the forefront of this discussion.

 Sharecare and the Ad Council

Exciting opportunities with Sharecare and the Ad Council were presented to the BOT. The Board listened to a presentation from Sharecare, an Internet-based health information service, begun by Dr. Mehmet Oz, Oprah Winfrey, and others. Sharecare is assembling a group of strong and credible sources of health information, and is seeking the ADA’s participation. Among current participants are the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, and Johns Hopkins University, just to mention a few. With the impact of the Internet and search engines, and the explosion of social media, this innovation may revolutionize the way people access health information. Sharecare has the potential to greatly increase general health literacy and oral health literacy. This is an exciting opportunity for the ADA, positioned as an early contributing member of Sharecare, and will strongly align this new program with our Strategic Plan to be the authority on oral health. While there are some concerns and risks associated with participating, the greater risk seems to be in not participating.

The other presentation was from the Ad Council. We (ADA) are pursuing a public service campaign with the Ad Council regarding oral health. The Ad Council has a long history of highly effective public service campaigns. Mr. Gary Price, CEO of the Dental Trade Alliance, who is championing this project, made the presentation to the Board. Initially the project focus will be on children’s dental health and will be in collaboration with the DTA and other oral health stakeholders. The service announcements have the potential to reach millions of people and dramatically increase the oral health literacy of our nation. I see this as another great opportunity to promote our message on the need for good oral health.

 Stay Involved and Let Us Hear From You

As you can see, the BOT is busy and always searching for the best ways to enhance and promote the profession through the good works of the ADA. Our next big challenge will be to prepare the 2012 budget. I will speak more about that in my next report.

As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns, or comments at or (402) 770-7070.


*Dr. Vigna is the Trustee to the Tenth District of the American Dental Association, representing Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.