It just doesn’t add up

But the Government should take heart from record numbers applying to study dentistry – and design a service that will support and reward these aspirational young people

20 October, 2021 / editorial
 Will Peakin  

After everything we have been through, the news came as something of a surprise. As we report here, dentistry courses at UK universities have seen a record number of applicants since the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out began this year.

The latest UCAS figures show the number of applicants for dentistry courses rose to 100,240 this year from 95,835 in 2019. UCAS course data has also shown dentistry to be among the UK’s top ten most popular courses in the UK to study with a 20 per cent increase in applicants in the past 14 years, despite, in the rest of the UK, the increasing cost in tuition fees.

There have also been rises in each age group (up to 25 and under) opting to study dentistry, with 19-year-olds highlighted as the most common age group. However, the data shows there has been a decline in mature students aged 35 or over that have applied to study dentistry in the UK with a 32 per cent decrease in the last 10 years.

Notably, dentistry has seen a huge increase in female applicants with a 72 per cent difference between female and male applicants in the last year. The profession, which historically has been a male-dominated industry, has seen more women apply for dentistry courses year-on-year since as early as 2007.

In this issue (see page 28), we outline the routes into dentistry for young people. As one industry observer says: “The profession is continually evolving, becoming more sophisticated with a greater focus on holistic, preventative care. Tuition fees don’t seem to be putting students off, perhaps because average salaries for dentists in the UK far exceed the national average. Prospects for successful graduates are excellent.”

Keeping in mind the differing financial arrangements in Scotland, and despite the deferment of graduations here this year caused by the pandemic, this would seem to be true.

But what kind of profession will these young people be entering midway through this decade? If recent studies are anything to go by, they will be joining – more likely, replacing – colleagues who are emotionally exhausted, have endured year-on-year declines in real-term income, and are looking for a way out.

The current state of the profession and the record numbers wanting to enter; well, it just doesn’t add up, does it?

At the risk of repeating myself, 18 months ago – as the first lockdown approached – we went to print with a report revealing detail of the so-called ‘New Model of Care’ in Scotland. Clearly, the pandemic put paid to any thought of implementation during that time. But, consultation, discussion, development of a model? Of that there appears to have been little, or none.

At Scotland’s universities, the education leadership has done incredible work over the years nurturing and equipping those currently in the profession. Before and – inevitably, during – the pandemic there has been innovation in the way people are taught dentistry which will no doubt serve future graduates well. Coincidentally, there also is change in that leadership – new heads of school at Dundee, Glasgow and soon, Aberdeen.

It is to be hoped that, while grappling with the new challenges of teaching, this fresh leadership can help persuade those responsible for developing policy to bring a sense of urgency and vision to their work that matches the commitment, despite everything, displayed by these aspirational young people choosing dentistry as a career.

Finally, a plea. Newcastle University is undertaking a survey looking at the prevalence of medical emergency events and the confidence of the dental team in managing them; please do take a moment to complete at:

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