ATLANTA, Jan. 15, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Georgia Dental Association (GDA) has long contended that there is no shortage of dentists or dental hygienists in Georgia. Now, a workforce census conducted by the Georgia Health Policy Center and Market Decisions Inc. supports assertions that Georgia does not have a dental supply issue. In fact only 19 out of 4,044 dentists practicing in Georgia cannot accept new patients. Armed with this census information, the GDA can continue to move forward with programs and initiatives addressing the numerous reasons Georgians choose not to access dental care.
"This study is the first of its kind to take a true census of a state's dental professionals," said Martha S. Phillips, Executive Director of the Georgia Dental Association. "We intend to use this data to determine how we can continue to work to find appropriate solutions to barriers in Georgians getting dental care."
Among the findings, the study reported that:
- The vast majority of dentists (3,312) reported that while their practices are busy, they are still accepting new patients;
- 309 dentists reported the need for more patients, and 31 dentists reported their practices were struggling;
- Only 19 private dentists reported that their practices are full and cannot accept new patients;
- Startlingly, 43 percent of public health clinics reported that they are not busy because patients schedule but fail to show up for treatment;
- Patients of record in Georgia can get an appointment in 5.4 days, and a new patient can get an appointment in 6.1 days; patients can be seen almost immediately for emergencies;
- 104 dentists not currently providing Medicaid services are willing to do so if the Care Management Organizations (CMOs) would credential them; this would add 12 percent to the Medicaid provider network;
- In counties without a dentist, no patient has to drive more than 22.9 miles, or 35 minutes, to see a dentist;
- 15 Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) offer dental services; four of these see patients with no wait;
- Two-thirds of locum tenens dentists report they could work more days per week.
"Is there a dentist shortage in Georgia? The GDA believes this census demonstrates there is not a shortage of dentists who can provide care," said GDA President Dr. Sidney Tourial. "The word shortage suggests there is more demand for dental care than an available supply. But the census data shows otherwise. If 43 percent of our public health districts report that they aren't busy because patients don't show up for appointments and only 19 private practice dentists cannot take new patients, it appears that there is not a lack of dentists in Georgia. There is a lack of demand."
In 2010, the GDA published a White Paper, "Georgia's Oral Health Status, Access to and Utilization of Oral Health Care Services." Research in this document clearly demonstrates that there are myriad reasons for patients not accessing dental care: oral health literacy, economic constraints, transportation, lack of an adequate safety net, under-funded government programs, and workforce, to name a few. Since the GDA has ongoing programs and initiatives to address many of these barriers, the missing data component was an accurate count of the number of actively practicing dentists in Georgia.
The GDA is aware that the Georgia Board of Dentistry has active licenses for many more dentists and dental hygienists than actually practice in Georgia. Dentists retire and maintain an active license. Dentists move out of state but maintain a Georgia license for various reasons. With this Workforce Census, we now know that there are 4,044 actively practicing dentists in Georgia and of these, only 19 cannot see new patients.
Census questions were designed to capture data on more than just the number of actively practicing dentists in Georgia. Practice locations, participation in Medicaid, public health and Federally Qualified Health Center clinic data, and patient care statistics at the College of Dental Medicine were also gathered. Armed with the data from the Workforce Study, the GDA can continue to develop strategies for improving access to dental care.
The GDA in conjunction with the American Dental Association (ADA) sponsor several programs that address access to care barriers:
- Patient Education Programs
1. Kids' Healthy Mouths, a public service campaign designed to teach parents, caregivers and children about the importance of oral health. The web site, http://www.2min2x.org/, contains videos, educational activities, and other information for kids and caregivers.
2. MouthHealthy.org, which was launched by the ADA, is a treasure trove of information for consumers. The site contains oral health information organized by life stages, A-Z topics with videos, a Symptom Checker, and a kids' section with activities and games related to good oral health.
3. Emergency Department Diversion Program: The GDA is working with other interested stakeholders to develop a patient education and referral to community resources program for patients who present with dental problems in the Emergency Departments of hospitals.
- Policy Initiatives
4. State Tax Credit for dentists who practice in rural, underserved areas: The GDA is working toward passage of state legislation to incentivize practitioners to practice in underserved areas.
5. Advocate for improvement of the dental Medicaid program: The GDA has ongoing efforts to encourage policymakers to appropriately fund the Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids dental programs, reduce administrative burdens, and require the Care Management Organizations to open the closed dental panels so that interested dentists can participate in Medicaid.
- Direct Care Programs for the Underserved
6. Georgia Mission of Mercy: In 2011, the GDA held its first Georgia Mission of Mercy (GMOM) and provided $1.7 million in free direct patient care to almost 2,200 patients. The two-day, 100-chair event will be repeated in June 2013 at the North Atlanta Trade Center in Norcross.
7. Nursing Home Initiative: The GDA is working with the Georgia Healthcare Association to initiate a nursing home staff training program so that they can assist in caring for the residents' oral health.
8. Give Kids A Smile Day: On the first Friday in February each year, GDA member dentists provide free dental care to Georgia's less fortunate children. In 2012, more than $193,000 worth of free dental care was provided by dentists in programs around the state.
The GDA remains committed to continuing to address barriers to oral health care and to educating Georgians about the importance of good oral health. The complete report commissioned by the Georgia Dental Association, "A Study of Georgia's Dental Workforce 2012," can be read at www.gadental.org.
For more information contact: Nelda H. Greene, Associate Executive Director
SOURCE Georgia Dental Association