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Report: Ohio Faces Dentist Shortage, Likely To Get Worse

Low income Ohioans have found it’s often hard to get the dental care they need because there are not enough dentists practicing in rural areas and too few dentists take on Medicaid patients. A new report shows that problem is getting worse. Two years ago, 59 of Ohio’s 88 counties were identified as having too few dentists to meet the needs of their communities. David Maywhoor of Dental Access Now says a new report shows the problem is getting worse. He says a total of 79 counties are on the list of those without enough dentists to serve the total community population.

We have communities that have no dentists. We have communities that have no dentists who are willing to serve Medicaid patients. Our safety net clinics have long waiting lists. The need for care is greater than Ohio’s current work force can take care of.

For the most part, Ohio’s largest counties are better off in this report. It shows there generally are enough dentists in places like Cleveland and Cincinnati. But Maywhoor says that’s not true of some rural areas. "There is no surprise that Southern and Southeastern Ohio have the highest concentration of dental shortage areas," Maywhoor says. "Consider that of Ohio’s 32 Appalachian counties, 26 have designated county wide dental shortage areas. Another 3 have one or two designated community or facility shortage areas." Nineteen percent of Ohio’s children lack dental insurance, and more than half of Ohio’s children experience dental decay by third grade. Almost 340,000 Ohio children have never been to a dentist. But this study shows adults are lacking care too: Nearly 45 percent of adults in Ohio have had permanent teeth removed due to tooth decay or gum disease. More than a third of Ohio’s poorest seniors have had all of their teeth removed. And it’s not just a problem that low income Ohioans face: Nearly 4,000,000 adults over the age of 18, or 45 percent of Ohio’s adult population, do not have dental insurance. There are many middle income people who simply cannot afford to get the dental work they need. Colette Haley of Columbus is one of them. She’s a small business owner who lacks dental insurance right now.

As a result I have broken teeth and an abscessed tooth that I cannot afford to get taken care of and I cannot afford to get routine dental checkups or teeth cleanings in the past several years.

The group that put out this report says more needs to be done to encourage dentists to practice in rural areas. And they think Medicaid expansion could help too. Primrose Barker works with health needs of head start children. She says legislators to change the law to allow dental hygienists to become registered dental providers much like nurses who have become nurse practitioners in the medical field. "We’ve got wonderful hygienists out there who have fantastic abilities that, with additional schooling and we are looking at probably a couple of years on what we’ve talked with other folks and they would attain a similar position in the dental or oral health field as a p-n-a has done in the health field," Barker says. A cost benefit recently done in Minnesota shows that registered dental practitioners can save the state money because they cost less than a dentist and can save clinics public health dollars. And the report shows the more that’s done to alleviate the shortage, the more affordable and accessible dental care will be in Ohio.