Many of California's rural and urban communities may not have enough dentists, which could limit access to dental care, according to a UC San Francisco report released today by the Center for California Health Workforce Studies.
The study found that out of 487 Medical Service Study Areas--geographic regions defined by state agencies for the administration of various programs--97, or 20 percent, are currently at or below the federal standard of one primary care dentist for every 5,000 people. Of the 97 areas that have dentist shortages, 66 are rural and 31 are urban. Thirty-two Medical Service Study Areas, most of which are rural, do not have any dentists at all.
In addition, regions that have a shortage of dentists tend to have a higher percentage of minorities, lower median incomes and a higher percentage of children. While there are a number of statewide programs aimed at increasing access to dental care, few of them work to place dentists in underserved areas, according to the study authors.
"There is a mal-distribution of dentists," said Elizabeth Mertz, MPA, and project director at the UCSF Center for California Health Workforce Studies. "Existing programs aimed at correcting that distribution have not been successful for a variety of reasons. The National Health Service Corp, a federal program that places health professionals in shortage areas, simply does not have the resources to place dentist in all shortage areas. The federal and state governments need to look closely at why shortages persist in these areas. Dentist shortages are of particular concern because they generally occur in communities with vulnerable populations in greater need of dental care."
According to the report, some of the Bay Area regions that have a dentist shortage are south San Jose, San Francisco's Visitation Valley and Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood.
"The study had two goals. The first was to document the geographic distribution
of dentists and show, based
Contact: Leslie Harris
University of California - San Francisco