TOPEKA, Kan. —
The state should start planning its first dental college and secure seats in out-of-state schools to address a shortage of dental care across Kansas, a higher education task force said in a report submitted Thursday to the Kansas Board of Regents.
The regents appointed the 11-member task force in October to study ways to improve delivery of dental care in a state where 93 of 105 counties do not have enough dentists to serve their residents.
Kevin Robertson, executive director of the Kansas Dental Association, said he supported the task force’s dual recommendations.
“We know the challenges for dental care won’t be tackled by a single approach,” Robertson said.
Kansas should secure seats for more students at dental schools in Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma and offer those students tuition subsidies if they agree to return to Kansas and work in underserved areas, the task force said. The goal would be to improve care for people living more than 30 minutes from a dentist, the disabled and those without dental insurance, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/O3p5XM).
At the same time, the state should “prepare a future, long-term, logistical plan for establishing a Kansas dental school that includes clinical sites in underserved areas.”
The new dental school would cost an estimated $58 million, and it would be seven years before any students graduated.
“Kansas has a dental access crisis now. We can’t afford to wait,” Hays dentist Melinda Miner said.
Cathy Harding, executive director of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, was disappointed that the task force didn’t endorse allowing registered dental practitioners in Kansas. The practitioners would be trained to work in underserved areas and perform routines services such as cleanings and fillings under the supervision of a dentist.
A proposal to create the category died in the last legislative session after strong opposition from the Kansas Dental Association, which raised concerns about safety and the creation of two levels of care.