WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) have reintroduced The Dental Loan Repayment Assistance Act (S. 449) to help increase the number of dental and dental hygiene faculty in the workforce by assisting dental and dental hygiene training programs to attract and retain faculty through loan forgiveness. There are nearly 6,500 dental health professional shortage areas nationwide. Nearly 60 million Americans, including 835,000 Marylanders, struggle to find a dental provider, even with insurance coverage. By 2030, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) projects that the United States will have a national shortage of 16,000 dentists.
We rely on dental faculty to train the next generation of oral health providers, but too often, these educators find themselves pushed to work in private practice in order to pay off their student loans. The Dental Loan Repayment Assistance Act will ease some of this financial burden and allow faculty members to stay where they are needed most by eliminating certain loan assistance benefits from counting as taxable income.
“We can only hope to solve the shortage of accessible dental care if we can recruit and retain enough faculty to train the next generation of dentists and dental hygienists. Crippling educational debt should not prevent our nation from having the oral health care providers it needs,” said Senator Cardin. “The Dental Loan Repayment Assistance Act will strengthen recruitment efforts by reducing the tax burden that often comes with choosing a public service profession over higher-paying opportunities. I’m proud of the bipartisan, bicameral unity on this issue and encourage all of our colleagues to back this commonsense support for health communities.”
“Communities across the country face unique challenges in recruiting and retaining dentists and dental faculty, drastically impacting access to dental care in underserved areas,” Senator Wicker said. “Attracting more faculty to train a new generation of dental students is essential to addressing national shortages of dentists, especially in states like Mississippi. This legislation would offer loan relief to encourage dentists to choose teaching over a private sector career.”
Companion legislation (H.R. 1285) has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.), Paul Gosar, D.D.S. (R-Ariz.), Mike Simpson, D.M.D. (R-Idaho) and Grace Meng (D-N.Y.). The bicameral, bipartisan legislation is supported by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
“Our nation is in desperate need of talented and compassionate capable doctors, nurses, and dentists, who will work to address and eliminate health disparities that plague our most underserved communities,” said Congresswoman Clarke. No medical professional should have to worry about crushing student loan debt while caring for our most vulnerable populations. The Dental Loan Repayment Assistance Act gives these heroes one less thing to worry about.”
“Dentists carry immense debt from years of specialized schooling to serve their communities. As we rebuild our nation after COVID-19, we must help everyone—including dentists—overcome their financial burdens. This starts with supporting and passing the bipartisan and bicameral Dental Loan Repayment Assistance Act that would provide much-needed relief for dental faculty from paying potentially hefty taxes on their federal loan repayment benefits,” said Congresswoman Meng. “This commonsense bill will help aspiring dental professionals manage their student debt while pursuing their careers. I urge Congress to pass this measure.”
“Training our next generation of dentists is critical to the overall health of our country,” said Congressman Gosar. “I’m proud to work with my colleagues on legislation that aims to remove barriers and strengthen oral health training.”
“The Dental Loan Repayment Assistance Act provides much-needed relief to health professionals who serve our communities,” said Congressman Mike Simpson. “As a former dentist, I am pleased to see legislation lift some of the burdens off young people trying to enter the profession, especially potential pediatric dentists.”
“The dental faculty loan repayment program (DFLRP) was created due to the significant difficulties in recruiting qualified individuals to fill faculty positions, especially acute in pediatric dentistry. A critical factor in recruiting and retaining dental school faculty from recent dental school or residency program graduates is the staggering student loan debt and income disparity with private practice. By alleviating taxation of such payments to the individual, this legislation will make the program even more effective in recruiting and retaining pediatric dental faculty,” said Jessica A. Lee, D.D.S, M.P.H., PhD, President, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
The ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has decreased access to oral health care. Though patient volumes have improved since last spring, recent surveys from the American Dental Association (ADA) indicate that since August many private practices have been operating at around 80 percent of pre-COVID-19 patient volumes while public health practices have been operating at around 60 percent of pre-COVID-19 patient volumes. Patients nationwide have experienced restrictions throughout the pandemic impeding their ability to visit health professionals like oral health practitioners, while dental practices have experienced financial difficulties brought on by the pandemic. Ensuring access to oral health care during this incredibly challenging time includes easing the burden on our struggling providers, which is what the Dental Loan Repayment Assistance Act would do.
Text of the Dental Loan Repayment Assistance Act (S. 449) can be found here.