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Soaring debt risks cutting off pipeline for next generation of dentists

The British Dental Association warn debt among dental students has more than doubled from 2013 to 2022, risking escalating severe workforce problems, while shutting off access to the profession to those from more modest backgrounds.

Research published today in the British Dental Journal shows:

  • The total debt of final year dental students and recent dental graduates surveyed increased substantially, more than doubling from £24,734 in 2013 to £52,922.12 in 2022. Increased student fees in 2010 and then in 2016, plus the removal of student grants in 2016 have played a large part in the increase.

  • Commercial and informal borrowing from family and friends almost doubled between 2013 and 2022, with the average value of commercial debt among dental students / recent graduates in 2022, £2,268 and £2,976 average for informal debt in 2022.

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

  • Over a third (37.9%) of respondents 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 vs. those who didn't).

With NHS dentistry currently experiencing unprecedented workforce problems and an access crisis the BDA stress 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.

The professional body stresses that the level of maintenance support within the financial package available to students must be adequate. It says 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. It believes interest should not be applied to student loans during studies.

Paul Blaylock, Chair of the British Dental Association'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."