Texas Does Not Need Another Dental School
Published in The Dallas Morning News
The intensifying arms race between Texas universities seeking to establish new professional schools deserves further scrutiny. This is especially true of the campaign to put a fourth state dental school in El Paso.
The three existing dental schools in Texas already are supported by state funds. There's no question that the existing facilities could be improved, but further dividing state funding would likely jeopardize the existing schools' enrollments or force efforts to "right size" their campuses.
Texas already has produced more dentists than the market can bear. Worse, the severe economies of dental education - among the most expensive of all professional educations - puts financially crushing pressure on too many Texas dentists striving to stay ahead of their student loan debts.
Little has changed since the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board 2012 Report concluded "Texas does not need a new dental school at this time." If anything, the dental services market is worse than it was six years ago. Between 2005 and 2015, Texas saw an influx of dentists totaling 9,119 new licensees. The 2012 report showed that Texas has 1,281 more dentists than the national average of one dentist per 3,000 population, according to data from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. This trend continues to this day.
At a February 2017 Texas House of Representatives Subcommittee on Education Hearing, Texas Tech Health Science Center reported El Paso needs 120 dentists. Why would the State of Texas need to spend $79 million for 120 dentists?
In 2012, the Coordinating Board reported, "The uneven distribution of dentists across urban and rural areas is likely the result of economic factors, including educational costs, debt loads, and practice costs." The report recommends "that the state not establish a new dental school ... Texas does not need more dentists ... It needs a geographic redistribution of dentists."
When it comes to Texans' access to dental care, most of us, rich to poor, already have good options. The Health Policy Institute reported in 2015 that 96 percent of publicly insured children in Texas live within 15 minutes of a Medicaid dentist. The federal website insurekidsnow.gov lists 106 pages of Medicaid providers in El Paso alone.
Another significant ongoing issue is dental tourism to Mexico. Websites now market all-inclusive pricing that includes transportation, how to file for dental insurance, and accommodations near Mexican dental facilities. The 2012 Coordinating Board study of El Paso noted that "up to 50 percent of the underserved population is either going across the border for treatment or is not choosing to spend their disposable incomes on dentistry outside of emergencies." Perhaps they are going across the border to Universidad Autonoma De Ciudad Juarez Dental School, which is 11 miles from El Paso.
With high educational costs and debt loads influencing practice locations, what can be done in Texas to bring more dental school graduates to underserved areas? One example that is less costly than building a new school would be to fund the Dental Education Loan Repayment Program that was eliminated in 2012 due to the Texas budget shortfall. This would incentivize dental graduates to locate in El Paso and other underserved areas.
Another option is increasing the federal positions available serving the dental corps of the military and federal and state public health programs.
Why not increase enrollment at the current three dental schools? A new Texas A&M facility is scheduled to open in 2019 with a 25 percent increase in student enrollment.
Increase externships during the third and fourth years at all three existing dental schools to underserved areas. This would also expose prospective new practitioners to locations where they choose to go after graduation.
An open, fact-driven debate on this issue is imperative. Texas taxpayers are entitled to know whether a fourth dental school would be anything more than a costly taxpayer-funded trophy for the university systems coveting them.
Jackie Stanfield is a dentist in Flower Mound and co-founder of Concerned Dentists of Texas.
Debra Seznik is a dentist in Irving and co-founder of Concerned Dentists of Texas.
"Join us! Sign the petition to Stop a 4th Dental School in Texas"
- “Texas does not need another dental school” - Report by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
- Population of Texas needed to increase by 27 million to absorb the number of new dental licensees during that same period - Texas State Board of Dental Examiners
- Anticipated $79 million to build 4th Dental School in El Paso despite tight Texas budget
- The maldistribution of dentists could be addressed by loan forgiveness for current dental students
Texas does not need a 4th dental school Petition