Dentist Shortage Hurts Children on Medicaid

A recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts found that a shortage of dentists is hurting children enrolled in Medicaid.

In Arkansas, 48 percent of children enrolled in Medicaid didn’t see a dentist in Arkansas in 2011, according to the report titled “In Search of Dental Care,” which was released in June. The state with the highest percentage, though, was Florida at 75.5 percent,

The report said that in some parts of the country there aren’t enough dentists to begin with, and there are a “relatively small number” of dentists who see Medicaid patients.

Billy Tarplay, the executive director of the Arkansas State Dental Association, said Arkansas has enough dentists, although he agreed that they are concentrated in metropolitan areas, leaving some rural areas underserved.

However, he said, the number of dentists isn’t the problem. Even if there were double the number of dentists in Arkansas, that wouldn’t mean people would see one.

“Generally, only half of Medicaid-eligible children will ever seek dental services,” Tarplay said. “It tends to be a characteristic of patients who are on Medicaid.”

Even patients who make an appointment to see a dentist often don’t follow through, he said.

“In order to maximize dental services in our state, it’s not just as simple as saying, ‘Do we have enough dentists?’” Tarplay said. “It’s a multifaceted issue.”

He said he would support a public campaign to get the word out about the importance of going to the dentist.

“Dentistry is all about prevention rather than treatment,” Tarplay said. “Certainly a public campaign to educate our citizens is always encouraged and would be welcomed.”