POINT OF VIEW: Florida has dentists, just not in critical areas

Jan 28, 2018

A recent letter in The Palm Beach Post mischaracterized Florida as having a dentist shortage (Point of View: A solution to Florida’s dentist shortage, Jan. 22). In fact, there is a strong workforce of more than 14,000 licensed dentists, and more than 300 dental students graduating each year in Florida. They are trained and ready to provide patients with treatment, preventive services and oral health education.

The letter does also call attention to a critical issue in our state – too many Floridians do not receive routine dental care services and end up in the emergency room as a result.

While there isn’t a shortage of dentists in our state, there is a need for more dentists to practice in rural and under-served areas. This is an issue the Florida Dental Association is committed to addressing.

Legislation is currently moving through the Florida House and Senate that would help bring immediate care to patients and improve oral health in Florida by providing support for dentists to practice where they are needed most. HB 369 and SB 764 would establish a dental student loan repayment program for dentists who practice in a public health program that serves patients covered under Medicaid and low-income patients in designated dental provider shortage areas.

Creating a new licensed dental provider in Florida is not only unnecessary but it has not been proven to effectively improve oral health in other states. In Minnesota, where dental therapist legislation passed nearly 10 years ago, there has been no reduction in dental-related emergency room visits. And last year, the federal government issued a warning to the state that not enough children covered under Medicaid are receiving dental care. In Maine, where dental therapist legislation passed four years ago, no dental therapists have been trained to date.

HB 369 and SB 764 will help provide immediate care and relief to Florida’s rural and under-served communities, and ensure Floridians, particularly those with the most complex and severe dental and medical conditions, have access to comprehensive dental care from dentists with the full body of knowledge and training to meet their needs.

KAREN GLERUM, BOYNTON BEACH

Editor’s note. Karen Glerum is a practicing dentist in Boynton Beach and a trustee of the Florida Dental Association.