New research from Harvard School of Dental Medicine finds oral health workforce expansion improves health outcomes in underserved communities 

MARCH 27, 2023 – Washington, D.C. New research from Harvard School of Dental Medicine, sponsored by the Delta Dental Institute, and published in JAMA Health Forum, finds that expanding the dental workforce in Oral Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) through the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) would reduce the risk of dental caries among children in underserved areas, improve care, and cut costs.

Lead researcher Dr. Sung En Choi, SM, PhD, studied the cost-effectiveness of expanding the dental workforce in underserved areas through the NHSC to evaluate the potential impact of having more dental practitioners providing care in those communities.

“Our analysis suggests that expanding the dental workforce through the NHSC would reduce the burden of dental caries among children in underserved areas and address disparities in the social and economic determinants of oral health,” said author Dr.  Choi, instructor in Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

The NHSC is a federally-funded program through the Health Resources and Services Administration that offers scholarship and loan programs to medical and dental students who commit to serving in HPSAs after completing their education and training. Currently, nearly 20,000 medical and dental clinicians serve at NHSC-approved sites in urban, rural, and tribal communities.

There are approximately 65.8 million U.S. residents living in HPSAs — dental HPSAs are defined by the ratio of dental professionals to the population with high needs, where dental care is in short supply. More than 10,600 dental practitioners are needed to adequately supply the over 6,300 communities considered as HPSAs.


“Having served in the NHSC on a Native American reservation, I know first-hand the difference an oral health professional can make in the overall health of those in underserved communities. The findings from this research will be instrumental as a framework for expanding the oral health workforce in a way that improves oral health and is cost effective,” said Joseph Dill, DDS, MBA, and Head of Dental Science at the Delta Dental Institute.


Recently, the Delta Dental Institute launched a new campaign, Driving Greater Diversity in the Oral Health Workforce, to help increase the number of oral health professionals from historically underrepresented groups. A key component of this campaign is producing actionable solutions through data-driven research, and these findings demonstrate concrete ways for the oral health workforce to be expanded and to improve health outcomes.

This research is a part of the Delta Dental Institute’s previously announced oral health research awards focused on creating more equitable access to care and reducing health disparities. Learn more about the research awards here.


About the Delta Dental Institute

The Delta Dental Institute is dedicated to advancing oral health for all Americans in partnership with Delta Dental companies and dedicated partners across the country. With expertise rooted in Delta Dental's rich history of oral health leadership, we engage in and support oral health research, community outreach, and advocacy, striving to ensure that everyone understands the importance of oral health to overall health and has access to the care they need. Visit for more information.

About the Harvard School of Dental Medicine

Located in the heart of Boston’s Longwood Medical Area, Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) ranks as one of the preeminent schools of dental medicine in the country. HSDM educates clinicians, educators, researchers, and leaders in the profession; boasts core strengths in musculoskeletal-disease research and epidemiological research; and offers students public health opportunities in local communities and across the globe.

HSDM is the only school at Harvard that offers direct patient care, with the Harvard Dental Center welcoming more than 25,000 patients for over 57,000 dental visits every year. In a unique educational model that integrates oral health with systemic health, HSDM pre-doctoral students (DMD) study clinical medicine with Harvard medical students and then pursue additional years of intensive, interdisciplinary clinical science education at HSDM and affiliated sites. Advanced graduate students, who work toward a doctor of medical sciences (DMSc) or master of medical sciences (MMSc) degree and/or a specialty certificate, also draw upon the richness of the educational facilities and research institutes of the broader Harvard community and Greater Boston area. HSDM graduates make their mark in prevention, discovery, and practice as they work to improve the health and well-being of local and global populations.