Oral health workforce policy has often lacked systematic connections with broader health policy, and system-based reforms that would enable more effective responses to future needs of the population. The aim of the study was to better understand challenges facing oral health workforce policy and planning and identify potential solutions. In-depth interviews of 23 senior oral health leaders and/or health policy experts from 15 countries were conducted in 2016-17. Grounded theory principles using the Straussian school of thought guided the qualitative analysis. The findings identified: (i) narrow approach towards dental education, (ii) imbalances in skills, jobs and competencies, and (iii) geographic maldistribution as major challenges. An overarching theme -“strife of interests” - shed light on the tension between the profession's interest, and the needs of the population. A key aspect was the clash for power, dominance and authority within the oral health workforce and across health professions. This study argues that appreciating the history of health professions and recognising the centrality of the strife of interests is necessary in developing policies that both address professional sensitivities and are in line with the needs of the population. Integration and closer collaboration of oral health professionals with the mainstream medical and health professions has emerged as the key issue, but the solutions will be diverse and dependent on country- or context-specific scenarios.
- Health professions
- Health workforce
- Integrated care
- Interprofessional colloboration
- Medical-dental divide