In Alabama a workforce crisis is looming, as the state lacks dentists in almost half of the counties. Some rural counties have no dentist at all, leaving patients with a long car ride to get care. With the state having the lowest dentist per population ratio in the U.S., something will have to be done soon to stem the lack of care for most of rural Alabama.

From the story on WTOK-TV: “One-third of Alabama’s dentists are 60 years old or older. At least half of those practice in rural Alabama, which means the majority of rural dentists are eyeing retirement.

“We are facing a real significant crisis right now,” stated Dr. Stephen Mitchell, a dentist who serves as the director of UAB’s Civitan-Sparks Clinics. “We are seeing over eighty percent of Alabama dentists operating within the thirteen counties that are urban. That’s leaving only twenty percent servicing the forty percent of Alabama citizens in our rural counties.”

Alabama has the lowest dentist per population ratio in the country, when considering a dentist per 100,000 people Alabama is 51st in the nation. Few are on track to fill this void, especially in rural areas.

“Even if they would like to do that they can’t afford it,” explained Dr. Richard Simpson, a practicing pediatric dentist. “The average dentist graduating from dental school nationally has over $300,000 in debt. They need immediate income, so they are gravitating toward the large metropolitan areas, not the rural communities and to existing practices.”

In fact, nearly half of the dentists that graduate from UAB leave for other states with higher insurance reimbursement rates or they go into specialty programs.”

The solution to most of the dental access problems plaguing Alabama would be to expand Medicaid, as states who have expanded with dental plans see a reduction in emergency room visits for dental issues. Telehealth focused on dental care and mobile clinics also help.

To read the rest of the story on WTOK-TV, click here.