The University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry has partnered with state dental associations in Nebraska, Wyoming, Kansas, and South Dakota to form a consortium to address oral health access problems of underserved populations in rural areas. The consortium’s strong interest in the oral health of their citizens prompted them to form a partnership called Target Access: Great Plains Oral Health. Funding for the consortium was made possible by an appropriation in the 2004 Omnibus Appropriation Bill approved by the U.S. Congress and signed by President George W. Bush. Congressional delegation members in Nebraska and Wyoming secured the funds, with Nebraska receiving $250,000 and Wyoming $360,000. Additional funding will be sought by Kansas and South Dakota for consortium support in their states.
The consortium will use the funds to reduce disparities in oral health care in rural areas. The goal will be to attract more students from rural areas into the field of dentistry, by beginning recruitment in high school, ultimately exposing dental students to a rural practice during their schooling, providing incentives for choosing to practice in a rural area after graduation, and retaining dentists once they’re practicing in rural communities.
Consortium officials say the plan is vital in order to educate and train more oral health providers who will address the current and future needs of the underserved in rural areas of the Great Plains. The UNMC College of Dentistry is a regional resource for the three Midwestern states that have no dental school.
John Reinhardt, D.D.S., Dean of the UNMC College of Dentistry, said the partnership calls on the talent and resourcefulness of each state to address the looming shortage of dentists in the Great Plains/upper Midwest. “State dental associations in this region predict more dentists will retire in this decade and in the next than will enter into the dental workforce,” he said. “This workforce crisis is already resulting in problems with access to dental care, especially among rural populations. The disparities caused by increasing patient need and declining dental workforce are predicted to worsen. The Great Plains states have an interest in solving this problem together.”
“This partnership is also a great opportunity between the state dental associations and the university,” Dr. Reinhardt added. “It’s a public/private solution to this problem. Our partnership will develop a pipeline of outstanding students who understand the challenges and opportunities of a career in dentistry and will learn the importance of giving back to the community and those less fortunate.”
Dentists not only play an important role in oral health care; they make significant contributions to the economic health of their states. Nick Bouzis, D.D.S., President of the Wyoming Dental Association, said the consortium partnership is a model for how the country can recruit dentists to serve rural America.
The partnership also will increase the capacity to educate more students from consortium states. The UNMC College of Dentistry, which began more than 100 years ago, provides D.D.S. programs for many states that don’t have dental schools, including Wyoming, Kansas, and South Dakota. Currently, about two-thirds of dental students at UNMC are Nebraskans, and most of the remaining students are from states with no dental schools. About 82 percent of the dentists in rural Nebraska are graduates of the college.