By Elisabeth Buchwald
Before the pandemic, dentistry was considered a growing industry.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that there would be 6% more openings for dental hygienists and 3% more openings for dentists between 2019-2029, compared to all other occupations.
But the pandemic has shown that the industry is no more stable than many other industries that have been hard hit by the pandemic, dimming career prospects. In turn, many dental and dental hygiene students are reconsidering their career paths, according to a peer-reviewed study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry.
The online survey of over 250 dental and dental-hygiene students found more than 40% of those in their final year of school are choosing to change their post-graduation plans. The same share of students reported that they “have not been able to secure their desired post-graduation employment.”
In-person learning has taken a hit due to the pandemic.
One survey respondent stated “I thought dentists had some of the best job security. I don’t know if this is what makes me happy anymore—no security, lack of communication.”
They would be leaving a lot behind if they abandoned their degree before graduating. The average amount of debt dental school students take on is over $290,000 , according to a 2019 report by the American Dental Association.
“Paying this loan aggressively only makes sense if your income is $250,000-plus after taxes, but realistically it will take over a decade to do so, and making this move severely limits loan borrowing power when looking to purchase a private practice,” a male survey respondent stated.
Dentists, like other medical professionals, have also incurred higher operating costs during the pandemic to secure personal protective equipment and sanitizing machines.
From the onset of the pandemic through early June, many dental practices across the country were forced to only see emergency patients. Once they were allowed to begin seeing patients again, many patients weren’t rebooking canceled appointments until they experienced excruciating pain from breaking or chipping a tooth.
“People are dealing with job loss, and sometimes family members have died and oral health is not necessarily their priority,” said Dr. Romesh Nalliah, associate dean for patient services at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, told MarketWatch in November.
Other dental experts told MarketWatch that the influx of patients experiencing jaw pains and broken teeth are directly related to increased levels of stress and anxiety during the pandemic.
“It is important that dental training programs have the financial and institutional support to provide safe and supportive in-person, virtual, and clinical training environments,” the latest study concluded.