Effects of a proposed rural dental school on regional dental workforce and access to care
Citation: Wanchek TN, Rephann TJ. Effects of a proposed rural dental school on regional dental workforce and access to care. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2013; 13: 2366. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au/articles/subviewnew.asp?ArticleID=2366 (Accessed 23 October 2017)
Introduction: Southwest Virginia is a rural, low-income region with a relatively small dentist workforce and poor oral health outcomes. The opening of a dental school in the region has been proposed by policy-makers as one approach to improving the size of the dentist workforce and oral health outcomes.Key words: access to health care, dental school, rural health services, USA, Virginia.
Methods: A policy simulation was conducted to assess how a hypothetical dental school in rural Southwest Virginia would affect the availability of dentists and utilization levels of dental services. The simulation focuses on two channels through which the dental school would most likely affect the region. First, the number of graduates who are expected to remain in the region was varied, based on the extensiveness of the education pipeline used to attract local students. Second, the number of patients treated in the dental school clinic under different dental school clinical models, including the traditional model, a patient-centered clinic model and a community-based clinic model, was varied in the simulation to obtain a range of additional dentists and utilization rates under differing dental school models.
Results: Under a set of plausible assumptions, the low yield scenario (ie private school with a traditional clinic) would result in three additional dentists residing in the region and a total of 8090 additional underserved patients receiving care. Under the high yield scenario (ie dental pipeline program with community based clinics) nine new dentists would reside in the region and as many as 18 054 underserved patients would receive care. Even with the high yield scenario and the strong assumption that these patients would not otherwise access care, the utilization rate increases to 68.9% from its current 60.1%.
Conclusions: While the new dental school in Southwest Virginia would increase the dentist workforce and utilization rates, the high cost combined with the continued low rate of dental utilization suggests that there may be more effective alternatives to improving oral health in rural areas. Alternative policies that have shown considerable promise in expanding access to disadvantaged populations include virtual dental homes, enhanced Medicaid reimbursement programs, and school-based dental care systems.
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