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Dental Shortage in Kansas

Kansas might be facing a dental shortage over the next 3 to 5 years, some sources report. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment also seems to be in agreement with this statement.

Currently, 91 of the state’s 115 counties are listed as having serious issues with shortages in the dentistal industry. Kansas Department of Health and Environment director Dr. Katherine Weno feels that the dental workforce is getting older, and that finding young, viable replacements, is becoming harder and harder. Dental recruitment in Kansas in not what it once was. “We do not have a dental school in Kansas, so we don’t have a ready pipeline of dentists that come into the state every year. We have to recruit dentists from out of state,” said Weno.

Most of the states graduates, Weno explained, go on to the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry. “Trying to recruit them back to rural counties if they are not from rural areas is particularly difficult, so that’s why we have a lot of issues with work force shortages in rural counties in western Kansas,” she said, indicating that the major issues are in less populated parts of Kansas.

Other findings in the report show that the average age of a Kansas dentist is 50, and, the older dentists tend to practice in less densely populated areas. It appears as though only 25% of dentists who graduate from urban high schools practice dentistry or orthodontics in a rural setting. Furthermore, most dentists who do practice in Kansas, claim that it is simply because of their family ties and the low cost of living within the state’s boundaries. The Office of Local and Rural Health indicated that 57 Kansas counties don’t have enough dentists who accept Medicare, or, help to treat low income patients.

Julie Branstrom, Executive President of the Douglas County Dental Clinic, aims to serve low income residents. “I think our county would be in bigger trouble if the clinic wasn’t here,” said Branstrom. “If the clinic wasn’t serving Medicaid patients, I honestly don’t know where people would go because I can count on one hand the number of dentists in Lawrence that take Medicaid.” Through August of this year, the clinic had over 4,000 appointments; a nine percent increase over the previous year. They have also seen an increase in the number of uninsured patients who seek treatment at the lowest price level – a staggering 26% of all dental patients.

Kansas State Health Officer, Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, is concerned by these findings, also. He believes that poor oral health is connected to a wealth of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

As of now, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is planning to assemble a dental work force cabinet, which will work in assisting new dentists, and, recruiting new ones to ultimately enter the field of dentistry or orthodontics. They recently learned that they will be awarded a grant worth $355,153 in federal funding to create an oral health professional recruitment program. They hope to now be able to offer high school students a true incentive to graduate, go to dental school, and practice in the less populate areas of Kansas.