A dentist shortage has been identified in the United States – particularly in areas where there are higher levels of poverty – and it is now being predicted that this problem will only increase by 2014 when the Affordable Care Act goes into full force.
Thousands of Americans are visiting emergency rooms every day to obtain treatments for dental problems that are considered to be entirely preventable. For example, in 2009, there were over 830,000 E.R. visits for just this type of problem, such as tooth abscesses that make it impossible for the patient to eat, or infections that risk traveling from the decayed tooth into the brain, where it could lead to the death of the patient if it is not treated in time.
The state of Georgia reported that in 2007, it saw over $23 million worth of emergency room visits for the treatment of oral care problems. Similarly, Florida’s more recent data indicated that they saw $88 million for oral care emergency room treatments.
Furthermore, the leading chronic childhood disease is dental disease, requiring children to need more treatments for that than they do for asthma.
As much as the American population is continually seeking better medical care, high-tech treatments, and a growing amount of preventive efforts, this does not seem to apply to issues of tooth decay. However, this is not necessarily the fault of the individual. Almost 50 million people in the United States live in poor or rural areas where there simply aren’t any dentists available to them. Furthermore, dentists do not accept patients with Medicaid.
When the Affordable Care Act does begin its additional coverage regulations in 2014, there will be another 5.3 million kids who will be entitled to Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program dental benefits. The problem doesn’t seem to be the coverage after that point, but is instead the lack of effort to have an infrastructure of dental professionals in place in order to ensure that the dental benefits can actually be used.
In the last century, when the federal government faced a shortage of physicians, 50 new medical schools were formed, allowing for twice as many graduating doctors. This might be something worth considering today, in order to prevent a long-term increasingly serious shortage of dentists.