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A coalition of oral health organizations in Kansas are working on a plan to improve access to dental care throughout the state, but particularly for residents of rural areas where there are few practitioners.
The nonprofit Oral Health Kansas is coordinating the plan to provide dental services through hospitals and nursing homes. In 2011, the Kansas Legislature passed a law allowing dental clinics in hospitals within communities of 50,000 or fewer residents, but administrative and financial issues have blocked implementation of the program.
"This is really a chance to step back, bring a large group of stakeholders together and figure this out," Tanya Dorf Brunner, director of Oral Health Kansas, told the Kansas Health Institute News Service. "We're going to develop a plan by the end of  calendar year and start implementing it next year, probably in the spring."
Included in the coalition is a wide-ranging group of medical and dental associations, including the Kansas Dental Association, the Kansas Hospital Association, the state's Bureau of Oral Health and the Kansas Health Association. Their work to create a blueprint for expanding dental services statewide is supported by a $100,000 grant from the DentaQuest Foundation.
The coalition's work will be directed by Megan Foreman, a former health policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Around the same time the state passed the law to expand dental options, researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center issued a report that found as many as 57,000 Kansans live in what the study termed "dental deserts." Those are places in the state where the closest dentist office is at least a 30-minute drive from where people live.
In addition to the lack of services in their region, families also are limited financially. The high cost of dental insurance premiums is often prohibitive and out-of-pocket costs are also expensive. One affordable alternative is to purchase a discount dental plan that provides significantly reduced prices for an array of dental procedures.
The university study looked into establishing hospital-based dental clinics in the Kansas communities of Ashland and Scott City, but hospitals there were unable to absorb the cost of building and staffing the dental practices.
Melissa Hungerford, executive vice president of the Kansas Hospital Association, said she's hoping something can be salvaged from that earlier attempt. "We can use what we learned to test the new models that this project might come up with," she said.
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