Kan. searches for answers to dental care gap

Facing a shortage of dentists, Kansas is looking for ways to increase access to dental care in the state and is considering a midlevel dental provider solution.

A new report issued by the Kansas Health Foundation (KHF) stated that Kansas is facing an access-to-care crisis, according to an article in the High Plains/Midwest AG Journal.

Steve Coen, president of the KHF, said his state had a shortage of dentists as severe as their shortage of physicians.

"Of the 105 counties in Kansas, 93 have too few dentists, and 13 have none. Too many adults and children are living in pain," he told the Journal.

To add to the data, a report issued in 2011 by the University of Kansas Medical Center stated that more than 55,000 Kansas residents live in what is known as a "dental desert," defined as a region where the closest dental office is at least a 30-minute drive.

The KHF report estimates that by 2045, there may well be fewer than 30 practicing dentists for every 100,000 Kansans.

Like other states, Kansas is considering a Registered Dental Practitioner (RDP) program. Under a proposed law, RDPs would spend their initial 500 hours of practice under a licensed dentist's direct supervision. After those hours are completed, a RDP could practice at other locations, often working with a dentist via telemedicine.

"Adding one RDP to a practice can allow at least 2,000 additional appointments a year," said Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of the Kansas Action for Children. "This program is critical to increasing the reach in safety-net clinics where they often have waiting lists."

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