Dentists Shortage in Rural America Reaching ‘Crisis Proportions,’ N.Y. Times reports
Although there are more dentists in practice today --- 166,383 in 2000, compared with 150,762 in 1991 -- than ever before, some rural areas of the United States face a provider shortage that is reaching "crisis proportions," the New York Times reports. There are "critical shortages" of dentists in areas such as the Plains, northern New England and portions of the Southwest. In South Dakota, for instance, there is one dentist for every 2,359 residents, compared with a national ratio of one dentist for every 1,714 people. The state currently has 320 practicing dentists, down from 361 in 1999. Fewer dental students are choosing to practice in rural areas, partly because they find that the fees they would receive in small towns often are lower than those offered in larger cities. Many dentists in rural areas treat Medicaid beneficiaries and find that Medicaid payments "often barely cover overhead expenses," the Times reports.
Dentists practicing in rural areas often have larger workloads than their urban counterparts because they perform oral surgery and periodontic services, as well as general dentistry services. States like the Dakotas have formed alliances with dental schools to entice students to rural areas for clinical internships, hoping that the "charms of a small-town practice" will convince them to practice there. In addition, some states are considering legislation similar to that adopted last year in North Dakota, which agrees to repay a dentist's student loans if he or she will practice in a small town for four years. Dr. David Born, professor and director of the division of health ecology at the University of Minnesota, said that unless the shortage is addressed, "oral health is going to deteriorate," adding, "More kids are going to be going to school with teeth that hurt. More and more workdays are going to be lost, and more adults suffering from dental pain will face longer waits at the dentist office" (Wilgoren, New York Times, 8/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.