Enough dentists, but where?
While reports of an impending shortage of dentistry graduates have circulated, local experts said enough people are entering the field – but just not enough are practicing in rural areas.
“Everyone wants to say, ‘Oh, we don’t have enough dentists’,” said Dr. Terry Buckenheimer, president of the Florida Dental Association and a trustee for the American Dental Association. “But that’s not it.”
In Florida, the number of dentistry graduates is expected to increase by about 100 in 2016 when the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, or LECOM, graduates its first class at its Bradenton campus, Dr. Buckenheimer said.
In 2012, 217 students graduated from University of Florida’s College of Dentistry and Nova Southeastern University’s College of Dental Medicine; in 2013, 216 graduated; and in 2014, 211 are scheduled to graduate, Dr. Buckenheimer said.
“We don’t think there’s a lack of dentists per se,” he said. But “there seems to be a mal-distribution of dentists in the state of Florida.”
According to an American Dental Education Association’s survey of a 2012 graduating class, 16.3% of seniors said they’re “very much” interested in treating the underserved, 23% said they’re “much” interested, and 37.5% said they’re “somewhat” interested.
“People coming out of school want to be employed, they don’t want to go to areas where people can’t afford dentistry,” said Dr. Bertram Ivan Moldauer, program director of the new Advanced Education in General Dentistry Residency Program at Larkin Community Hospital in South Miami. “Everyone wants to profit, wants to pay their loans, and they want to practice in high-income areas.”
The Larkin residency program was in part formed to address this issue.
Residents will be based in four South Florida community health clinics: the Dental Health Center at Jessie Trice Community Health Center Inc.; the Miami Beach Community Health Center; a Borinquen Medical Centers of Miami-Dade branch near Midtown; and a Community Health of South Florida Inc. branch in South Miami, Dr. Moldauer said.
“We have to encourage the new generation to provide services to the underserved,” he said. “Everything is concentrated in the big metropolis.”
Larkin’s first class of 16 is expected to enroll in July.
The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and the Jackson Health System have a two-year general dentistry residency, which enrolls 18, and a four-year oral and maxillofacial surgery program, which enrolls 16 residents and two fellows, said Dr. Robert Marx, professor of surgery and chief of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Jackson Health Systems.
Dr. Marx agreed that dentistry residencies provide services to the underserved, but he added that the underserved aren’t only people who can’t afford dental care.
“It’s people who have HIV, people who are incarcerated and people who have a medical compromise,” he said. “There’re people who have serious medical problems that the routine medical office is not equipped to handle.”
University of Miami and Jackson Health System residents service Jackson Memorial Hospital, Jackson South Community Hospital, the University of Miami Hospital and the Miami VA Healthcare System, he said.
Dr. Buckenheimer, of the Florida Dental Association, said that while some dentists may want to service areas in need, “it’s hard to take on a lot of Medicaid patients because the reimbursement rates are so low and you can’t support a business model.”
Aside from residencies, the dental community targets the problem through organized pro-bono events.
“It’s easier to do it through an organized event,” he said, “instead of doing it through Medicaid.”