Soaring debt ‘risks next generation of dentists’

24 February, 2023 / infocus
 Will Peakin  

Debt among dental students has more than doubled from 2013 to 2022, according to a new study

The British Dental Association (BDA) said that the issue risks “escalating severe workforce problems, while shutting off access to the profession to those from more modest backgrounds.”

The debt of final year dental students and recent dental graduates surveyed has risen from £24,734 in 2013 to £52,922.12 in 2022. Increased student fees in 2010 and then again in 2016, as well as the removal of student grants in 2016, have played a large part in the increase, said the BDA.

Commercial borrowing, and from family and friends, almost doubled during the same period, with the average commercial debt in 2022 sitting at £2,268 and the average for informal debt at £2,976.

The report noted that students studying at a Scottish university who live in Scotland, do not have to pay university fees, and that these are paid for by the Students Awards Agency Scotland. Dental students in Scotland are also eligible to apply for a Dental Student Support Grant to help with study costs.

The proportion of respondents experiencing financial difficulties, across university regions, sat at 50 per cent in Scotland compared with 62.1 per cent in England and 71.4 per cent in Northern Ireland.

Three in five (60.2 per cent) respondents experienced financial difficulties during their studies and more than a quarter (28.2 per cent) “nearly did not come to university” because they were concerned about the debts they would accumulate – roughly a 10 per cent increase in both proportions compared with 2013.

More than a third (37.9 per cent) had thought about dropping out of university, with significant differences found between different socioeconomic groups (students whose parents attended university or college of higher education versus those who did not).

With NHS dentistry currently experiencing unprecedented workforce problems and an access crisis, the BDA said sufficient support must be available to meet the needs of current and future dental students “as part of any fully funded, long term workforce plan.”

It said that all dental students should be entitled to an NHS bursary and that all UK governments “must jointly produce information resources which allow prospective students to easily find out what support is available to them.”

Paul Blaylock, Chair of the BDA’s Student Committee said: “As millions of patients struggle to access care, debt is leaving many students thinking twice about their future in the dental profession. 

“Successive governments have tightened the screws. Ministers cannot rely on the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ to ensure this country has the health professionals it needs. 

“We need the brightest and the best on the frontline, and eye-watering levels of debt should not be a barrier. The next generation of dentists and patients deserve better.”

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