COVID-19 increasing dentist shortage, new Eastman Institute for Oral Health program looks to help

Alonzo Osche

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The Eastman Institute for Oral Health at the University of Rochester has started a new program to address the growing shortage of dentists and dental assistants, something the COVID-19 pandemic is only making worse.

The national shortage of health care providers in the oral health industry comes at a time when staying on top of your oral health could help keep you safe from COVID-19.

“Oral hygiene has a lot to do with your general health” said first year dental student Penelope Perez. “It kind of amazes me how many people don’t understand if you don’t keep your mouth clean, you could really get sick.”

Perez is one of 15 students enrolled in the University of Rochester Eastman Institute for Oral Health’s new Dental Assistant Training Program. The program provides paid training and job opportunities for students heading into an industry that was already seeing a decrease in workers.

According to the National Health Resources and Services Administration, we could be facing a shortage of 4,000 general dentists in 2030.

“The workforce shortages only continued after the pandemic a lot of people not able to continue to work,” said Holly Barone, Chief Operating Officer of the Eastman Institute for Oral Health. “They have child care issues, children not in school, so it really took a hit.”

The Eastman Institute for Oral Health is one of largest safety net providers in upstate New York, providing over 18,000 emergency visits during the pandemic. This 1-year training program will help continue to serve that community, with a mix of classroom and in person training.

“Increase the workforce to be able to give those opportunities to people who weren’t able to get in to the healthcare industry and to be able to continue to help the community,” said Barone.

The Eastman Institute for Oral Health’s new Dental Assistant Training Program begins January 19. Leaders say there was huge interest in the program, over 300 applicants for just 15 slots and they’re are looking to expand this program in the future.

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