Local News

Effort Under Way To Attract Dentists To Rural Areas

Posted March 17, 2006

— If you live in a place like the Triangle, there are plenty of dentists to choose from. However, people in rural areas of North Carolina often have to drive far to find any dentist at all. Now, there is an effort to attract dentists to where they are needed most.

Elvia Mejia Vasquez drove more than an hour to get to Tri County Community Health. Like many of the patients who come to the clinic, Vasquez has no dental insurance but plenty of dental issues.

Twenty years ago, there was an over-supply of dentists in the U.S. with 6,000 graduating every year. Several dental schools have closed so that now only 4,000 graduate nationally per year. Those dentists usually choose to practice in areas where patients are more likely to have dental insurance.

"It creates shortage areas and maldistribution of dentists throughout our community and certainly here in N.C.," said Dr. John Williams, dean of the UNC Dental School.

Williams said the school sends many dentists to Tri County Community Health for training. They gain valuable experience and an appreciation for dental care in a rural setting.

Right now, the three staff dentists are overwhelmed. They plan to increase to five, plus getting dental students from Chapel Hill. They are going to build a 7,000-square-foot facility in the area and increase from seven to 18 dental chairs.

The hope is the dental students who use the new facility might stay beyond their training.

"It has the promise of better recruitment and retention for dentists that we train in the state -- to stay out in these areas where they are so much needed," said Michael Baker, director of the Tri County Community Health.

The Golden Leaf Foundation will help pay for the new teaching facility at the Tri County Community Health Center.

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