Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Lack of dentistry for kids really bad in rural Wisc.

In February we reported a study revealing that one in five U.S. children go without dental care every year, many because few or no local dentists accept patients covered by Medicaid, the federal-state medical program for the poor and disabled. The problem appears particularly bad in rural Wisconsin. "Nine of 10 dentists in the state accept few or no Medicaid patients, mostly because they say the state pays too little for the care," David Wahlberg of the Wisconsin State Journal reports. "Rural areas have only about half as many dentists per person as urban areas do, making the search for dental care even harder in small towns."

State health officials told the Madison newspaper that the shortage, "combined with low fluoride levels in many rural drinking water supplies, means more tooth loss and untreated decay for many rural residents." Greg Nycz, executive director of the Family Health Center of Marshfield, which serves much of rural Northern Wisconsin, told the paper, "Of all of the holes [in health care], dental care is the biggest and the deepest." A network of federally funded dental clinics designed to serve Medicaid patients and the uninsured has emerged in the state, but many clinics have been overwhelmed by demand, Wahlberg reports.

"Most of these patients are a year-long project," Dr. Bob Traul, one of three dentists at the clinic in Darlington, told Wahlberg. "It's going to take a while to get them all back."  While the lack of dental care among Medicaid patients is predominately an urban problem in Wisconsin, it also has rural roots. "The 10 counties without any private dentist who provided a significant amount of Medicaid care last year are rural: Calumet, Clark, Florence, Forest, Jackson, Lincoln, Menominee, Pepin, Taylor and Vilas," Wahlberg writes. "When we see someone on Medicaid, we lose money," Dr. Kent Vandehaar, a dentist in Chippewa Falls who is president of the Wisconsin Dental Association, told Whalberg. "We can only afford to do that so much." (Read more)

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