Dentist Shortage Looms in Some Areas of California

Posted on June 2, 2014

A lingering recession, the elimination of Medicaid dental reimbursements, and a glut of established dentists in wealthier, populated areas may explain why more new dentists are practicing outside California, according to a new policy brief from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

“Good access to dental care depends on having a robust supply of new dentists in California,” said Nadereh Pourat, PhD, MSPH, director of research at the center and lead author of the study. “We need a new generation of dentists to replace the many dentists who are close to retirement.”

While California had more licensed dentists (35,000+) than any other state in 2012, the number of those licensed to practice in California who opted to reside or work out of state grew 6% between 2008 and 2012. The migration is especially noticeable among new dentists. In 2012, 86% of those licensed within the previous 5 years practiced in the state—a 10% drop from 2008. In addition, new dentists in 2012 made up a smaller share of the state’s overall supply.

“There is a lopsided distribution of dentists,” Pourat said. “They cluster in areas like San Francisco and Southern California, but don’t settle in rural and underserved areas. Many areas of the state don’t have enough dentists.”

The report says that although economic conditions in the state are likely to improve, it is critical to motivate new dentists to practice in underserved areas such as the San Joaquin Valley and the Northern and Sierra counties. The full report is available at

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