Effort Underway To Improve Kansas' D- Grade On Dental Accessibility

By: Stephanie Diffin Email
By: Stephanie Diffin Email

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February 10, 2011

Many people can think of a reason to delay a trip to the dentist.

"I'm scared, I'm a chicken," said Hutchinson resident Pamela Alvarez.

"If you ain't got the money then you're not going to get seen, if you ain't got health insurance, you're not going to get seen," said Kim Wodell.

Financial issues are a large part of the reason hundreds of people pour in to the Kansas Mission of Mercy event each year, to get free dental care.

"They really don't have access because they can't afford it, and there's no funding mechanism for them to see a dentist," said Kansas Dental Association Executive Director Kevin Robertson.

It's just one issue putting Kansas on the low end for dental care accessibility, earning a D- on a 2009 Oral Health America grading project. The same study shows one of those access issues is dentist availability.

While the Kansas Dental Association says almost everyone is within 40 miles of receiving care, there are still 14 Kansas counties that don't have a dentist at all.

"We certainly agree that we need to do more to get dentists into some of those rural areas that don't have dentists," said Robertson.

Dr. David Hamel practices in rural Marysville, Kansas.

"I think being in a rural area gives you an opportunity to practice all kinds of dentistry, all different areas of dentistry," said Hamel.

Hamel says he doesn't think rural accessibility is a major problem now, but he doesn't want to see it be a bigger problem in the future.

"All of our communities out there and in the rural community, we're fighting a battle of keeping our population, not just dentists, it's our population," said Hamel.

But Hamel says there is a more immediate problem, and that's the restrictions on Medicaid.

"If you want to have an access problem, we probably need to look at access to funding," said Hamel.

To allow more people to gain access to dental care, the Kansas Dental Association has drafted a proposal for the Kansas legislature which contains objectives including the following: make dental care more financially accessible, provide incentives for dentists to stay in Kansas, and allow dental hygienists to provide more advanced care.

"There are ways that you can get to a dentist, there are certainly areas where there need to be more," said Robertson.

That's something many dental professionals agree on, even those who don't see a major shortage problem.

"We would love to get more dentists interested in rural population," said Hamel.

And those who can't afford the care hope that problem improves as well.

"I haven't been to the dentist since I was eight years old. That's really sad," said Alvarez.

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