By Scott Rothschild
TOPEKA - A Kansas Board of Regents task force on Thursday recommended that Kansas start preparing to establish a dental school to address what it said were “dental care service deserts.”
Task force members also acknowledged that starting a dental school would be an expensive proposition, and they recommended that in the short term, the state purchase seats at dental schools in surrounding states.
Addressing the shortage of dentists “is a much broader problem and it will require much broader answers than I think anyone can imagine,” said Robba Moran, of Hays, who is a member of the Kansas Board of Regents and who served on the Oral Health Care Task Force.
The Kansas Dental Project, which consists of health care advocacy organizations, said the task force should have recommended allowing registered dental practitioners to work in Kansas.
“Kansas has a dental access crisis now. We can’t afford to wait,” said Dr. Melinda Miner, a dentist in Hays. “Fort Hays State University has already agreed to educate and train registered dental practitioners right here in Kansas. Within just a few years, we could have mid-levels seeing patients and helping dentists like me grow our practices.”
Dental hygienists who obtain additional education and training and pass a comprehensive exam could become registered dental practitioners, or RDPs, the Kansas Dental Project said. They would work under supervising dentists to provide routine and preventive care. More than 40 state and national health and advocacy organizations have endorsed the RDP proposal, according to the group.
The Oral Health Care Task Force found that 93 of 105 counties in Kansas face a dental workforce shortage.
The report said there are about 57,000 Kansans who live in areas where the closest dental office is at least a 30-minute drive away.
And the report said only one in four Kansas dentists accepts Medicaid patients.
The state needs an influx of 60 new dentists per year to replace baby boomer-generation dentists who are retiring, the task force said.
The task force recommends purchasing dental student slots in schools in Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma, and requiring that the students return to Kansas and work with underserved populations.
The state should also start putting together a plan to establish a Kansas dental school. A new dental school admitting 60 students per year would have startup costs of about $58 million, with $19.5 million in operating costs, the report said.
Regents Chairman Ed McKechnie, of Arcadia, said the report, completed after seven months, was just one step in the process.
“We are going to keep working on this,” he said.
Kevin Robertson, executive director of the Kansas Dental Association, said, “Kansas dentists and all Kansans should be encouraged by the recommendations, which call for maintaining access to quality care by continuing to grow the number of professionally educated dentists in our state.”