Are dentists risking losing their relevance?

Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology, Oral Radiology and Endodontics
Volume 107, Issue 5, Pages 599-604 (May 2009)

Are dentists risking losing their relevance?

James R. Hupp, DMD, MD, JD, MBA (Editor-in-Chief, Section Editor, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery)

Although there are still some debates about the severity of and reasons for problems in access to good dental care, it seems clear that in many states the citizens and their elected representatives believe there is a serious access problem. This is typically portrayed as primarily a problem in rural parts of the country that have no dentists. Yet there is evidence of concern even in areas that do have dentists. The worry is that access is compromised by the cost of dental care. Also, some patients feel they must wait longer than desired to see dentists. Sure, new dental schools are coming online, and many existing schools are increasing class sizes. But these changes are unlikely to change what I feel is a major root cause of the problem. That is, that the current way most dentists practice is poorly designed to deliver high-quality care to the large numbers of patients who are currently underserved. Every dentist knows there are practice styles that deliver care to sizable numbers of patients. They are usually called “dental mills.” These practices commonly (but not always) focus on procedures covered by public assistance programs while ignoring other aspects of a patient's oral health needs. In this way, they commonly see larger volumes of patients, but also are commonly thought to deliver suboptimal care.

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