Oral Health Workforce and Education in California


Connie Kwong and Janet M. Coffman

July 31, 2020

Dentists are healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat problems related to oral health. Common tasks include repairing or removing damaged teeth, filling cavities, performing root canals, placing sealants or whitening agents on teeth and making models and measurements for dental appliances (e.g., dentures and implants). This report presents an overview of California’s practicing dentists and its pipeline of dental students.


  • California has a higher ratio of dentists per capita than the United States overall.
  • Over 80% of dentists in California practice general dentistry, but the number of dental school graduates pursuing advanced dental education is increasing.
  • While the overall supply of dentists in California is adequate, an estimated 2.2 million Californians live in areas designated by the Health Resources and Services Administration as Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas.
  • California’s share of female dentists is growing.
  • California dentists are more racially and ethnically diverse than dentists nationwide, yet blacks and Hispanics remain underrepresented relative to the state’s population.
  • The numbers of dental students and graduates has increased over the last ten years, both in California and nationwide. Although the racial and ethnic makeup of recent dental students and graduates is more diverse than that of practicing dentists overall, the share of dental students from underrepresented backgrounds is still lower than that of the general population.