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Rural areas lacking dentists

To the editor:

Rural America has too few dentists, and some counties have no dental services at all. A recent University of Nebraska Medical Center study that focused on that state reflects a problem found across rural America. Further complicating the shortage of dental care is the fact that many dentists in rural areas are nearing retirement.

The exodus of soon-to-retire dentists from rural practice will further accelerate the situation. Sadly, too few dentists are being educated to replace them. Even fewer are trained to handle unique, rural dental challenges.

Access to dental services is a major health care issue. The American Dental Association estimates that dental issues contribute to 164 million lost work hours and 51 million lost school hours annually. And oral health deficiencies have been found to contribute to a host of other health issues. The longer one goes without dental care, the more likely that dental issue will contribute to other health issues, which then require more and often more expensive health care.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center report corresponds to a recent report by the National Academy for State Health Policy, which estimates that 85 million Americans lack dental coverage. The lack of coverage is most acute among low-income adults.

In rural communities, as is the case with health insurance, residents are more likely to be uninsured and this fact combined with sparser access to dental services, creates stern challenges for many small town residents in accessing adequate dental care, especially for children.

Elisha Smith, Center for Rural Affairs

Lyons, NE

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Editor's note: The Center for Rural Affairs was formed by rural Nebraskans concerned about family farms and rural communities, and work to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities.