Wicker, Cardin Reintroduce Dental Loan Repayment Assistance Act

February 25, 2021

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., have reintroduced The Dental Loan Repayment Assistance Act (S. 449) to help increase the number of dental and dental hygiene faculty in the workforce by assisting dental and dental hygiene training programs to attract and retain faculty through loan forgiveness. There are nearly 6,500 dental health professional shortage areas nationwide. Nearly 60 million Americans struggle to find a dental provider, even with insurance coverage. By 2030, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) projects that the United States will have a national shortage of 16,000 dentists. 

We rely on dental faculty to train the next generation of oral health providers, but too often, these educators find themselves pushed to work in private practice in order to pay off their student loans. The Dental Loan Repayment Assistance Act will ease some of this financial burden and allow faculty members to stay where they are needed most by eliminating certain loan assistance benefits from counting as taxable income.

“Communities across the country face unique challenges in recruiting and retaining dentists and dental faculty, drastically impacting access to dental care in underserved areas,” Senator Wicker said. “Attracting more faculty to train a new generation of dental students is essential to addressing national shortages of dentists, especially in states like Mississippi. This legislation would offer loan relief to encourage dentists to choose teaching over a private sector career.”

“We can only hope to solve the shortage of accessible dental care if we can recruit and retain enough faculty to train the next generation of dentists and dental hygienists. Crippling educational debt should not prevent our nation from having the oral health care providers it needs,” said Senator Cardin. “The Dental Loan Repayment Assistance Act will strengthen recruitment efforts by reducing the tax burden that often comes with choosing a public service profession over higher-paying opportunities. I’m proud of the bipartisan, bicameral unity on this issue and encourage all of our colleagues to back this commonsense support for health communities.”

The ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has decreased access to oral health care. Though patient volumes have improved since last spring, recent surveys from the American Dental Association (ADA) indicate that since August many private practices have been operating at around 80 percent of pre-COVID-19 patient volumes while public health practices have been operating at around 60 percent of pre-COVID-19 patient volumes. Patients nationwide have experienced restrictions throughout the pandemic impeding their ability to visit health professionals like oral health practitioners, while dental practices have experienced financial difficulties brought on by the pandemic. Ensuring access to oral health care during this incredibly challenging time includes easing the burden on our struggling providers, which is what the Dental Loan Repayment Assistance Act would do.

Text of the Dental Loan Repayment Assistance Act (S. 449) can be found here.