County Pulse

County Pulse: A larger percentage of new dentists are leaving California

kcarlson@modbee.comMarch 28, 2014 

    alternate textKen Carlson
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: County government, health and medicine, air quality, the environment and public pension systems
    Bio: Ken Carlson has worked 13 years for The Bee, covering local government agencies in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. His in-depth reporting has focused on access to health care and public employee pensions.
    Recent stories written by Ken

A recent study found that California is losing more of its new dentists to other states.

The authors from the UCLA Center for Health Policy analyzed licensing data between 2008 and 2012 and found that a growing out-of-state migration of dentists coincided with the recession, cuts to Medi-Cal dental services and dental practice competition in affluent areas of California.

Some of the state’s newest dentists are choosing to practice in the San Joaquin Valley. But the region still has the lowest ratio of dentists to patients when compared with other areas of the state.

According to the report, “Trends in the Supply of Dentists in California,” there were 2.4 dentists for every 5,000 Valley residents, well below the statewide average of 3.9.

The eight-county Valley region had the highest percentage of new dentists, where they made up 15 percent of the total. The UCLA study found that 26 percent of dentists in our region are nearing retirement.

The policy brief at said that 40 percent of dentists in the “Northern and Sierra counties” were nearing retirement. It’s a possible worry for leaders in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, which were grouped with 23 other counties in the study.

With a ratio of 5.1 dentists for every 5,000 residents, the Bay Area is considered to have a glut of the men and women in white coats.

“There is a lopsided distribution of dentists,” said Nadereh Pourat, director of the research center and lead author of the study. “They cluster in areas like San Francisco and Southern California but don’t settle in rural and underserved areas. Many areas of the state don’t have enough dentists.”

Of those licensed to practice in California, the number choosing to live or work out of state increased by 6 percent from 2008 to 2012, the study found. Among dentists who were newly licensed, 86 percent were treating patients in California in 2012, but the numbers revealed a 10 percent decline from 2008.

California’s more than 35,000 licensed dentists led the nation. The authors noted that almost half of the new dentists in 2012 were women.

The study authors included some ideas for coaxing new dentists to work in less affluent areas like the San Joaquin Valley. The proposals included small-business loans, assistance with dental school loan repayment and higher reimbursements for treating the growing number of Medi-Cal patients in the region.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at or (209) 578-2321.

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