What 3 Supreme Court rulings mean for the dental industry

The Supreme Court recently handed down three rulings regarding affirmative action at colleges and universities, religious accommodations for employees and student loan forgiveness. 

Here is how the three rulings could impact the dental industry:

Affirmative action

The Supreme Court ruled June 29 that U.S. colleges and universities cannot consider race as a factor in admissions, which could affect dental schools' efforts to increase diversity at schools and in the workforce.

The decisions settled lawsuits against Chapel Hill-based University of North Carolina and Cambridge, Mass.-based Harvard University, which alleged that the schools' affirmative action policies violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment.

Creating a diverse workforce has been a priority for dental school programs in recent years to improve patient care and increase accessibility. 

Black and Hispanic dentists are significantly underrepresented in the dental workforce, while Asian dentists are significantly overrepresented, according to the American Dental Association. While the workforce has diversified since 2005, the percentage of Black dentists has seen little change. White dentists made up more than 70 percent of dentists in the U.S. in 2020, down from 79.8 percent in 2005.

Religious accommodations

The Supreme Court also solidified protections for employees who request religious accommodations at work.

The ruling stemmed from a case involving a mail carrier who sued the U.S. Postal Service after declining to work on Sundays for religious reasons.

The court unanimously decided that employers, including dental company owners, should comply with such requests unless they can prove doing so would result in "substantial increased costs" to the business, Politico reported June 29.

Student loan forgiveness

The Supreme Court ruled June 30 that the Department of Education is not authorized under federal law to cancel such student loan debt, dealing a blow to President Joe Biden's plan to forgive federal student loan debt for millions of Americans.

Under the ruling, dental school students will be responsible for repaying their tuition costs, which could prevent people from entering the field and make it harder for new dental professionals to open businesses. Many dentists have spoken with Becker's about the negative impact student loan debt has on professionals.

The cost of dental education at public and private universities has more than tripled in the last 50 years, while the average dental student debt has also increased, according to the American Dental Association. 

Interest on federal student loan balances will resume Sept. 1, while payment deadlines will begin in October, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

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