Kan. struggles to solve dentist shortage

Kansas is facing a dentist shortage as veteran practitioners retire, especially in rural areas, and health officials are searching for ways to attract and retain newly minted dentists to work in the state.

Five years ago, 1,402 dentists were practicing in Kansas. Today, there are only slightly more: 1,427, according to an article by the Kansas Health Institute (KHI). And dental experts predict the shortage soon will affect everyone, not only the poor.

Last year, Kansas health officials found that 91 of the state's 105 counties didn't have enough dentists to meet their populations' needs, according to KHI. A 2009 survey found that the average dentist in Kansas was 50 years old, and that many of those who practice in rural counties said they were planning to retire in six to 10 years.

The Department of Health and Environment has started a task force to look for ways to attract more dentists to Kansas, and to gather data that demonstrate the impact of the shortage and point the way to possible solutions.

Mark Herzog, D.D.S., a member of the task force, told the KHI that most new dentists become associates because they can't afford to buy an existing practice or start one on their own, and most associate positions are in bigger cities.

Because Kansas doesn't have a dental school, the state has an arrangement with the School of Dentistry at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), whereby UMKC sets aside 20 slots in each year's incoming class for students from Kansas and allows them to pay in-state tuition.

According to the Kansas Board of Regents, 93 Kansas students are currently enrolled in UMKC's dental school. But it is unclear how many of the Kansas students return to the state to practice, said John Killip, an assistant dean at the school.

Doing more to help graduating dentists pay off student loans could be an effective recruitment strategy, according to health officials. In Kansas, new dentists are eligible for state and federal loan repayment programs if they agree to practice in a nonprofit setting in an underserved area for at least two years. Typically the dentists are eligible for $25,000 to $30,000 in loan repayments a year.

Currently, two dentists and three hygienists are enrolled in the state's loan repayment program, and 18 dentist and hygienists take part in the federal program, according to the KHI.

Copyright © 2010 DrBicuspid.com

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