According to a new report by the UCLA Health Policy Research Center, California may be facing a

dentist shortage. However, in looking at the details of the UCLA report, it seems that the report may be overly concerned about a dentist shortage that may never come to pass.

A Very Good Dentist Supply

Currently, the dentist supply is very good in California. According to the UCLA report, there are about 35,000 dentists licensed to practice in California, the most of any state. The report also states that there are about 3.9 dentists for every 5000 people in California, which is even more than it had when it ranked #8 in the US for dentists per capita.

Although we can’t say for sure that dentists are increasing significantly in California, it certainly doesn’t seem like there’s any shortfall currently.

Factors That Imperil the Dentist Supply

However, the UCLA report takes a long view and it points out that there are actually three factors that may contribute to a future dentist shortage.

Dentists Moving out of State: One of the factors that concerns researchers is that more and more young dentists who graduate from dental college in California are moving to practice outside the state. Currently, about 86% of recent graduates (those who graduated in the previous five years) are practicing in the state, a 10% drop from 2008.

Dentists Nearing Retirement: Another factor that threatens the dentist supply is that a high percentage of the state’s dentists are nearing retirement age. About a quarter of dentists in the state have been practicing for 30 years, and in some localities the number may be as high as 40%.

Specialization: Another problem is that more and more dentists are choosing to become specialists, threatening people’s access to general dentists. In 2012, 13% of newly licensed dentists identified themselves as specialists, which is a 6% increase from 2008.

Uneven Supply: Although the overall supply of dentists is high in the state, not everyone has the same access to dentists. Dentists move to San Francisco and Southern California areas like Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego. Rural communities have less access to dentists, as a result. The number of dentists per capita ranges from 5.1 in San Francisco to 2.4 in San Joaquin Valley. The San Joaquin Valley number is less than Oregon’s, and would put the area at #36 on a list of dentists per capita.

Long-Term Changes

Overall, there is no immediate need for concern about the supply of dentists in California, but it is something to be aware of, and people should encourage politicians to be aware of the risk and encourage legislation that may help encourage dentists to stay in-state.