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Study: Idaho, Oregon Among Top 10 States Facing Dentist Shortage


Oregon and Idaho need more dentists. That's according to a new study out Tuesday from the Pew Charitable Trusts. It puts Oregon and Idaho among the top 10 states with the worst shortages.

Unless you live in a rural area, you probably haven't felt the dearth of dentists found in the Pew study. As Portland dentist Jill Price puts it, the problem isn't so much a shortage as poor distribution. She says, “We need to find ways to move people into the outlying areas.”

The Pew report finds that a little more than 17 percent of people in Idaho and Oregon live in what are known as shortage areas. That's where there may be only one dentist for roughly 5,000 people. But Price, president of the Oregon Dental Association, says loan forgiveness programs and internships in rural areas may be changing those numbers.

“Students are actually going out to these small towns and they end up falling in love with being the small town dentist,” Price says.

In Washington, the dental association has a program to place dentists in places like Walla Walla, Yakima and Toppenish. Idaho offers providers grants to move to rural areas. Although, the Idaho State Dental Association takes issue with Pew's findings, saying all Idahoans are within 60 miles or less of a dentist.

Another more controversial idea, and one recommended by the Pew report, is licensing “dental therapists.” These are practitioners who fall somewhere between a dental hygienist and a dentist. Typically, they can fill cavities and do minor extractions without a dentist present. A bill that passed the 2011 Oregon legislature includes these practitioners as part of a pilot program; the idea has so far failed in the Washington legislature.

But the number of providers isn't the only challenge. The American Dental Association released a report this week the finds an increasing number of young people are going to emergency rooms for their untreated toothaches because they don't have health insurance.

On the Web:

Report: In Search of Dental Care - Pew Charitable Trusts