Coming Next on Health Shortage List - Dentists

Article excerpt

This country is building an unsavory reputation for ignoring or mishandling its most serious health care problems.

The United States, for instance, ranks far down the list of major industrialized nations in the important category of infant mortality, bouncing around for years in the second tier of nations. At times, the U.S. has ranked as low as 17th.

While others provide universal health insurance for all their citizens, our government tinkers at the margins with partial coverage for selected groups. Among these groupings are the aged and roughly half of the poorest. Millions more have no health benefits at all.

In more recent times, the government looked away for too long as a deadly disease called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) took hold and began to spread exponentially.

Surely, there can be broad agreement that the issues mentioned above represent legitimate public health concerns. Admittedly, it is far more difficult to reach agreements on public policy. That's why so many efforts end up as half measures and failed attempts.

More than a decade ago, knowledgeable people were warning of an impending shortage of nurses. As we wallowed in self-satisfaction, piling up mountainous public and private debt, sure enough, the shortage descended on us.

What's next? How about a shortage of dentists?

Here comes the dean of the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry to say that the dental care gap likely will be felt early in the 21st century.

The dean, Dr. Michael D. Rohrer, looking at studies by private agencies and the federal government, made these observations:

"We have no reason to believe that Oklahoma will not follow this national trend."

Four years ago, he said, Oklahoma had 97 dental students per class. That figure, however, dropped to 50 with the closing of the Oral Roberts University College of Dentistry and lower limits on class size at the University of Oklahoma. OU's entering class was cut from 72 to 50.

Even now, the state has only 45.3 dentists per 100,000 population, far below the national average of 57.3. …