Opinion: Dental care is in crisis. But it’s also a moment of opportunity

While staffing crises at hospitals continue to make headlines, dental care — too often overlooked and treated as separate from medical — is also experiencing a significant workforce challenge. In my role leading dental at Sun Life U.S., which includes DentaQuest, the nation’s largest Medicaid dental benefits organization, I know full well that you cannot be healthy without a healthy mouth. Considering the many connections between oral health and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, the disconnect between medical and dental causes real harm and has lasting consequences, beyond the mouth. That’s why regular dental care is so important.

But if you’ve tried to make a dental appointment recently, you may have noticed something. Like others in health care, many dental professionals left the workforce during the last few years, citing the pandemic as the impetus for leaving. The difference is, according to preliminary federal data, other areas of the health care sector have seen a labor rebound while employment at dental offices remains down — at all levels of the field.

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