BACKGROUND: To address dental workforce shortages in underserved areas in the United States, some States have enacted legislation to make it easier for foreign dental school graduates to become licensed dentists. However, the extent to which foreign dental school graduates will solve the problem of dental workforce shortages is poorly understood. Furthermore, the potential impact that foreign-trained dentists have on improving access to dental care for vulnerable patients living in dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) and those enrolled in public insurance programs, such as Medicaid, is unknown. The objective of this paper is to provide a preliminary understanding of the practice behaviors of foreign-trained dentists. The authors used Washington State as a case study to identify the potential impact foreign dental school graduates have on improving access to dental care for vulnerable populations. The following hypotheses were tested: a) among all newly licensed dentists, foreign-trained dentists are more likely to participate in the Medicaid program than U.S.-trained dentists; and b) among newly licensed dentists who participated in the Medicaid program, foreign-trained dentists are more likely to practice in dental HPSAs than U.S.-trained dentists.
METHODS: The authors used dental license and Medicaid license data to compare the proportions of newly licensed, foreign- and U.S.-trained dentists who participated in the Medicaid program and the proportions that practiced in a dental HPSA.
RESULTS: Using bivariate analyses, the authors found that a significantly lower proportion of foreign-trained dentists participated in the Medicaid program than U.S.-trained dentists (12.9% and 22.8%, respectively; P = 0.011). Among newly licensed dentists who participated in the Medicaid program, there was no significant difference in the proportions of foreign- and U.S.-trained dentists who practiced in a dental HPSA (P = 0.683).
CONCLUSIONS: Legislation that makes it easier for foreign-trained dentists to obtain licensure is unlikely to address dental workforce shortages or improve access to dental care for vulnerable populations in the United States. Licensing foreign dental school graduates in the United States also has ethical implications for the dental workforces in other countries.