Louisiana faces serious dentist shortage

Louisiana faces serious dentist shortage

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana ranks 49th out of 50 states for access to dental care.  The findings from a new report with Pew Charitable Trusts finds that 25 percent of the state's population is underserved in dental care.

This information comes at the same time the Department of Health and Hospitals is cutting Medicaid reimbursements for dentists.

Biggio Dental Care located in Baton Rouge has kept up a steady stream of patients since it opened. As the second largest city in the state, it is no surprise that the yellow pages for the Baton Rouge metro area listing dentists tops 500.

But look further out - to more rural areas - and that list drops tremendously. "It's skewed towards the major cities where these major cities have a lot of dentists and a lot of access to care, and a lot of these smaller cities and smaller areas have poor access to care," said dentist, Dr. Chad Biggio.

The distribution of dentists is one of the reasons a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts finds Louisiana to be lacking in access to dental care. "Physicians can actually maintain in smaller communities a decent practice," said Louisiana DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert, "dentists can't. People see a physician more often than they would a dentists."

The Medicaid reimbursement cut by three percent for dentists is another reason they are feeling the pain. "It hurts a lot," said Dr. Biggio, "a lot of business that would normally would be able to accept some of these patients on the Medicaid program, now with all the cutbacks it's making them think twice about it."

The state's rate of children with Medicaid receiving dental care has actually improved over the last few years.

The Center for Medicaid and CHIP services credited Louisiana with improving its rates by about 20 percent, boosting the total number of kids receiving primary care to about 42 percent. "We worked really hard with dentists on making sure they understood what they could bill under the program, what was available in the program," said Kliebert.

Even so, the Pew study says a national trend of dentist shortages could grow worse if it is not addressed by each state.

To read the entire report, click here.

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