KIRKSVILLE, Mo. -- A new Kirksville dental school is seeking to ease a severe shortage of dentists in Missouri.
The Missouri School of Dentistry & Oral Health opened Tuesday at A.T. Still University, the Columbia Missourian reported. The only other dental school in the state is at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The new school’s initial class of 42 includes nine Missouri residents, but the school hopes its health center placement program will persuade many to remain in state, where dentists are retiring more quickly than dental schools can graduate new professionals.
In 28 counties, at least 50 percent of dentists plan to retire within the next 10 years, according to an analysis conducted for the Department of Health and Senior Services.
The retirements are especially concerning because dental care already is in short supply. With a patient-to-dentist ratio of 2,168-to-1, Missouri is in worse shape than 90 percent of the nation. The national average is 1,516-to-1, according to county rankings from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“They’re few and far between in rural areas,” said Joseph Pierle, CEO of the Missouri Primary Care Association.
The Kirksville school aims to increase awareness of underserved populations and provide on-the-job clinical training. During their first two years, students will learn through simulations and classroom lectures. In their third year, they’ll work at Grace Hill Health Centers, Inc., a community health organization in the St. Louis area.
During the fourth year of the program, students will work in community health centers across the state, including in rural areas. Students may also work at Veteran’s Administration clinics or Indian Health Service clinics.
Upon completion of the four-year program, every student will receive a certificate in public health, with the option of pursuing a master’s degree in public health, A.T. Still University dean Christopher Halliday said.
“The fact is,” Halliday said, “that we have a large segment of the population that does not have access to oral healthcare services.”