DENTISTS: Report Shows Shortages in One-fifth of Regions
A new report released last month by the University of California- San Francisco's Center for California Health Workforce Studies reveals that 20% of California's 487 geographic regions "are currently at or below the federal standard of one primary care dentist for every 5,000 people." Of the 97 California regions with dentist shortages, 66 are rural, and many have a greater percentage of minorities, lower median incomes and more children than those areas containing a higher ratio of dentists. Noting that "[d]entist shortages are of particular concern because they generally occur in communities with vulnerable populations in greater need of dental care," Elizabeth Mertz, project director at the UCSF center explained, "There is a mal-distribution of dentists. Existing programs aimed at correcting that distribution have not been successful for a variety of reasons." Mertz said the regions identified in the study could be designated as Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas so that the National Health Services Corp. could dedicate additional dentists to those areas. Among the study's other key findings:
- More than half of California children have untreated tooth decay -- double the number of children in other states;
- Twenty-eight percent of children in the state have no dental insurance;
- Almost half of all preschool children and 12% of all high school students in California have never been to a dentist (UCSF release, 1/24).