An Assessment of the Dental Public Health Infrastructure in the United States


Send correspondence and reprint requests to: Scott L. Tomar, DMD, DrPH, University of Florida College of Dentistry, Department of Community Dentistry and Behavioral Science, 1329 SW 16th Street, Room 5180, Gainesville, FL 32610–3628. Phone: (352) 273–5971; Fax: (352) 273-5985; E-mail: Manuscript received 5/05/05; returned to author for revision 8/14/05; final version accepted for publication 9/24/05.


Objectives: The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research commissioned an assessment of the dental public health infrastructure in the United States as a first step toward ensuring its adequacy. This study examined several elements of the US dental public health infrastructure in government, education, workforce, and regulatory issues, focused primarily at the state level. Methods: Data were drawn from a wide range of sources, including original surveys, analysis of existing databases, and compilation of publicly available information. Results: In 2002, 72.5% of states had a full-time dental director and 65% of state dental programs had total budgets of $1 million or less. Among U.S. dental schools, 68% had a dental public health academic unit. Twelve and a half percent of dental schools and 64.3% of dental hygiene programs had no faculty member with a public health degree. Among schools of public health, 15% offered a graduate degree in a dental public health concentration area, and 60% had no faculty member with a dental or dental hygiene degree. There were 141 active diplomates of the American Board of Dental Public Health as of February 2001; 15% worked for state, county, or local governments. In May 2003, there were 640 US members of the American Association of Public Health Dentistry with few members in most states. In 2002, 544 American Dental Association members reported their specialty as Dental Public Health, which ranged from 0 in five states to 41 in California. Just two states had a public health dentist on their dental licensing boards. Conclusions: Findings suggest the US dental public health workforce is small, most state programs have scant funding, the field has minimal presence in academia, and dental public health has little role in the regulation of dentistry and dental hygiene. Successful efforts to enhance the many aspects of the US dental public health infrastructure will require substantial collaboration among many diverse partners.