Monday, September 22, 2008

Arkansas Has One Of Lowest Dentist-Access Rates, Study Shows

By The Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK -- Arkansas faces a looming dental “crisis” as it fails to attract young dentists to replace retirees in a state with one of the nation’s lowest access levels, a new study shows.

Arkansas ranks 50th in the nation in the number of dentists it has serving every 100,000 residents in the state, in front of only Mississippi, the report shows. It suggests lawmakers set aside $1 million during next year’s legislative session to establish a Center for Dental Education at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Arkansas is one of 16 states that don’t have a dental school.

“There’s going to be a crisis in dental work force in the next decade or so, and we need to be working on it now, not waiting until it hits us,” Dr. Lynn Douglas Mouden, director of the Arkansas Department of Health’s Office of Oral Health, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

On average, there are about 40.3 dentists to serve every 100,000 people in Arkansas, the study found. The national average is 60 dentists per 100,000 people.

The numbers grow even smaller when considering the number of dentists in the state’s rural areas, as opposed to central and northwest Arkansas. Four Arkansas counties — Calhoun, Cleveland, Perry and Newton — have no dentists, and 32 counties have five dentists or fewer. Sixty percent of the 1,175 dentists practicing in Arkansas are in eight of 75 counties.

In many rural communities, people have to drive 40 to 60 miles to see a dentist, said state Rep. Clark Hall, D-Marvell, who sponsored legislation last year requesting the report.

For decades, Arkansas relied on special agreements with eight dental schools in seven states that produce about 30 graduates a year. The state is paying $1.45 million this year for the 97 Arkansans now enrolled through those agreements.

But state officials say they can no longer rely on the agreements to produce enough dentists to meet the need.

“The present system, though it was good historically, won’t measure up in the future,” said Dr. Charles O. Cranford, a professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Public Health.

However, creating dental schools prove to be expensive propositions for states, something lawmakers will have to consider.

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