Lowering the Barriers to Dental Care Among Underserved Populations in Mississippi

Image reprinted from www.pewstates.org, June 2013

According to The Network for Public Health Law, “Dental provider shortages are severe in Mississippi. As of 2009, Mississippi had only 3.9 dentists per 10,000 people, lower than every other state except Arkansas and significantly lower than the national average of 6 dentists per 10,000 people. Of those dentists, only about 40 percent participated in Medicaid. In January 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 36.3 percent of Mississippians are underserved and living in dental shortage areas, the highest of any state.

Lack of access to dental care has detrimentally impacted the oral health of Mississippi residents, especially children. A 2009-2010 survey of third grade children found that approximately 63 percent had a history of tooth decay, 31 percent were presently suffering from untreated tooth decay, and 5 percent were in urgent need of dental care.Only 23.5 percent had a dental sealant applied to one or more molars, an indicator of access to preventive dental care. In addition, as of 2008, 27.3 percent of adults aged 65 and older in Mississippi had lost of all of their teeth.”

An Issue Brief, ‘In Search of Dental Care,’ published by The PEW Charible Trusts said, “Without a system of continuous care, children and adults are more likely to end up in hospital emergency rooms with serious dental conditions that could have been prevented. In 2009, more than 830,000 Americans were treated in ERs for toothaches or other preventable dental problems. For many low-income children, emergency rooms are the only option because their families cannot find a dentist who practices in their area or accepts Medicaid. These hospital visits exacerbate states’ financial burdens. A national study found that treating decay-related cases in ERs cost nearly $110 million in 2006 alone. States are saddled with a significant share of these unnecessary expenditures through Medicaid. For patients, emergency rooms are an expensive treatment option, and care from these facilities usually does not provide lasting relief. Since most emergency rooms are not staffed with dentists and their medical staff are not trained to treat underlying oral health problems, hospitals generally are unable to treat toothaches and other dental ailments effectively.”

As dental health advocates work to lower the barriers to dental care among underserved populations in Mississippi, four new Aspen Dental practices are scheduled to open in 2017 – making access to dental care even easier for residents in the Magnolia State. Offices in Tupelo, Pascagoula and Columbus are projected to open later in 2017, bringing much-needed access to affordable, quality care, including dental services that range from dentures and preventive care to general dentistry and restoration. According to a study conducted in 2013 by Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, the four office openings will contribute more than $5 million in positive economic impact through job creation and capital investment in Mississippi. The four new Aspen Dental-branded practices are located in Rankin, Lee, Jackson and Lowndes counties, all of which have dental health professional shortage areas (HPSAs) as designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Sources: PR Newswire, Aspen Dental, U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesThe Network For Public Health Law, PEW Charitable Trusts