Program Investments to Help Address Critical Dental Workforce Shortage
We provided a $835,000 grant to Lake Washington Institute of Technology’s (LWTech) dental program to replace and upgrade equipment for its restorative and dental hygiene teaching clinics.
These and other program enhancements come as the demand for dental hygienists and dental assistants is at an all-time high. More than 71% of dentists, responding in fall 2022 to Washington’s Health Workforce Sentinel Network survey, reported exceptionally long vacancies for open hygienist positions. This builds on data from a 2020 survey by the Washington State Department of Health which found nearly 1,000 open positions statewide – with the greatest number being in King and Snohomish counties – often contributing to longer patient waits for preventive dental health services.
LWTech’s two-quarter Dental Assistant Education Program – featuring virtual didactic courses, two days a week at the on-campus clinic, and prearranged externships in the dental community – will be offered twice a year with a minimum of 12 enrolled students in each cohort, with plans to increase to 24 students per cohort next year. In addition, the Dental Hygiene Education Program, under the supervision of licensed dentists and hygienists, is planning to increase enrollment from 30 to 40 students every year, starting the summer of 2024. These students will be working toward a Bachelor of Applied Science in dental hygiene degree.
“We are incredibly appreciative of the generous support of Delta Dental at a time when the need for skilled dental hygienists and dental assistants is in high demand,” said LWTech President, Dr. Amy Morrison. “Industry partnerships are at the heart of how workforce colleges prepare students to enter the workforce ready for career longevity, with skills and confidence.”
“While there are challenges in almost all sectors of our economy right now, the dental workforce has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, and it has yet to recover. It will take several years to repair the damage,” said Delta Dental of Washington President and CEO Mark Mitchke. “Responding to the serious shortage of dental professionals by investing in the dental workforce is some of our most important work, including ensuring that our state’s future dental hygienists and assistants have access to the training they need for this in-demand field.”
Expanding the dental hygienist and assistant workforce also provides an opportunity to better represent the state’s diversity and improve oral health equity. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color) are underrepresented in all oral health professions. Research shows that patients fare better with diverse healthcare teams, including improved patient communication, preventive care, and patient satisfaction. Delta Dental of Washington has launched a dental careers program to introduce youth, especially those from historically underserved groups to oral health professions – helping to ensure that future generations are afforded better employment opportunities and responding to the serious shortage of oral health professionals statewide.
The LWTech grant announcement follows Delta Dental of Washington’s recent $1.5 million lead gift to relocate the Shoreline Community College Dental Hygiene Education Program – which had been in jeopardy of closing – to the University of Washington School of Dentistry earlier this year. In total, Delta Dental of Washington has invested more than $4 million to help address the dental workforce challenge, which also includes $2 million in previous support to Neighborcare Health Dental Education Clinic at Pacific Tower.
About Lake Washington Institute of Technology
Lake Washington Institute of Technology was founded in 1949, and it is the only public institute of technology in the state of Washington. LWTech offers 11 applied bachelor’s degrees, 35 associate degrees, and 86 professional certificates in 42 areas of study, including STEM-focused programs in science, technology, engineering and math. For more information, visit: www.lwtech.edu.