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Two Americas: Group working to combat dentist shortage in Kansas, Missouri

Two Americas: Dental shortage in Kansas, Missouri
Posted at 7:46 PM, Dec 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-14 20:46:26-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas and Missouri continue dealing with shortage of dentists that dates back to 20 years.

KSHB 41 reporter Megan Abundis spoke with those impacted by the crisis, and a Kansas City area group working to solve the problem.

Bill Jackson knows first hand how difficult it can be to find the dental care he needs with federal health insurance.

“Basically, I just do without until something comes up and I have to deal with it," Jackson said.

He's not alone.

According to the American Dental Association, only 36.6% of dentists accept medicaid in Missouri. In Kansas, it's 39.7%.

Dr. Anthony Jimenez, the dental director of Vibrant Health, says about half of his patients have medicaid. The other half pay on a sliding scale.

Regardless of insurance status, Jimenez said he strives to provide quality healthcare at Vibrant Health, which is funded through donors.

Jimenez wishes other private offices would follow suit.

“More offices should have an obligation to help marginalized communities," he said.

Despite a nationwide shortage, Jimenez wants to make sure no patients slip through the cracks.

“Nationwide, we see a shortage of healthcare providers in the dental field," Jimenez said.

The federal government tracks the issue through a database called Health Professional Shortage Areas. The issue is tracked by facilities, area and population.

In Kansas, 94 out of 105 counties in the state have a shortage of dentists in at least one of those categories.

In Missouri, all but two counties are experiencing a shortage one of the categories, which amounts to one dentist for every 5,000 people.

Jimenez works in Wyandotte County, and sees first-hand the low-income population is impacted by the shortage.

According to Jimenez, getting patients in the chair comes down to trust.

“Folks that look and sound like them," he said.

Data suggests patients are four times more likely to go to a dentist that looks like them.

Also, dentists of color are four times more likely to serve in an underrepresented population.

With that in mind, GEHA Solutions is sponsoring scholarships to get more future dentists, like Eze Chiaka.

“Dental school has its challenges," Chiaka said. "It wasn't always my first choice."

Chiaka told KSHB 41 News he didn't see a dentist until he was 26 years old, which drove him to the industry.

“I wasn’t raised in a dental home," he said. "The only way we can bring the trust is when someone that looks like us speaks that trust to us.”

Through the scholarships, the University of Missouri - Kansas City and GEHA are hoping to shrink the dentists shortage.