Group working to combat dentist shortage in Kansas, Missouri

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas and Missouri continue to grapple with a 20-year dentist shortage.

KSHB 41 reporter Megan Abundis spoke to those affected by the crisis and a group from the Kansas City area working to resolve the issue.

Bill Jackson knows firsthand how difficult it can be to find the dental care he needs with public health insurance.

“Basically, I just hold off until something comes along and I have to deal with it,” Jackson said.

He’s not alone.

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

dr Anthony Jimenez, Vibrant Health’s dental director, says about half of his patients are on medicaid. The other half pays in stages.

Regardless of insurance status, Jimenez said he is committed to providing quality healthcare at Vibrant Health, which is funded by donors.

Jimenez wishes other private firms would follow suit.

“More agencies should be committed to helping marginalized communities,” he said.

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

“Nationally, we’re seeing a shortage of healthcare providers in the dental field,” Jimenez said.

The federal government is tracking the issue through a database called Areas with skill shortages in healthcare. The problem is tracked by facility, area, and population.

In Kansas, 94 of the state’s 105 counties have shortages of dentists in at least one of these categories.

In Missouri, all but two counties suffer from a shortage in one of the categories, amounting to one dentist per 5,000 people.

Jimenez works in Wyandotte County and is seeing firsthand how the shortage is affecting the low-income population.

According to Jimenez, getting patients in the chair is key to trust.

“People who look and sound like her,” he said.

Data suggests patients are four times more likely to see a dentist who looks like them.

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

With this in mind, GEHA Solutions sponsors scholarships to attract 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 that he didn’t see a dentist until he was 26, which is what drove him into the industry.

“I didn’t grow up in a dentist’s house,” he said. “The only way we can inspire trust is when someone who looks like us speaks that trust to us.”

With the grants, the University of Missouri – Kansas City and GEHA hope to reduce the shortage of dentists.

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