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Some question whether shortage of licensed dentists is an issue

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Is there a shortage of dentists in New Mexico?

“The barriers are not the numbers of providers, but the economics of having a practice in some of those rural areas,” says Albuquerque dentist Tom Schripsema.

Schripsema mirrors the position of the New Mexico Dental Association, which is opposed to the creation of a new mid-level dental therapist classification, at least as outlined in House Bill 17, and has put forth a bill of its own.

“There have been 590 new dentists licensed in New Mexico over the last three years, and there are nearly 1,100 licensed dentists in New Mexico,” says Michael Moxey, the NMDA’s communications and advocacy director. “We believe there are enough providers. New Mexico is one-fifth the size of Alaska (which has a model dental therapist program) and has twice as many dentists.”

Jerry Harrison, executive director of New Mexico Health Resources, a clearinghouse that recruits and retains people for the medical and dental fields, says there is definitely a shortage. The NMDA’s head count of dentists is based on “gross licensure numbers” and is not adjusted for “how many hours a week people are working in clinical practice or the fact that after dentists retire they don’t give up their licenses,” he says.

Based on a federal standard for calculating the minimal number of dentists required for New Mexico, “we would need an additional 400 more practicing dentists than we have now,” which is estimated at between 700 and 800, with the largest concentrations in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces.

“Dental therapists are part of the answer to filling a need statewide, and not just in rural areas,” Harrison says. Economically disadvantaged and underserved parts of Albuquerque also have a shortage of dental providers.

Because dental practices have historically functioned as small businesses, survival depends on “paying attention to their bottom line,” he says. Consequently, dentists generally don’t set up practices in poor or rural areas that can’t support them financially.

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