Study finds ‘dental deserts’ in rural Colorado

<p>(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)</p>
<p>Dentist Dr. Francis Tham and dental assistant Latasha Johnson attend to Medicaid patient Pamela Scott at the Chicago Family Health Center in Chicago.</p>

Colorado now has a record 1.1 million people who have dental coverage under Medicaid, triple the number from just two years ago, according to a new study by the Colorado Health Institute.

At the same time time, the number of dentists here hasn't increased anywhere near enough to keep up.

"We took that right step, in terms of adding a dental benefit into Medicaid for enrollees," said Sara Schmitt, the organization's director of community health policy. "Now the next step is making sure that there’s care available, and that is a significant hurdle."

The report identifies Colorado's "dental deserts." Eight rural counties have no dental care at all. Seven have dentists, but none who accept Medicaid.

"It’s very exciting to see all of the work that is happening across the state, communities recognizing the needs and really stepping up to meet those needs," says Schmitt. "It’s just going to take some time" until there are enough dentists trained and hired to meet the growing demand.

Here's how the need and the coverage plays out in four maps, courtesy of the Colorado Health Institute:

Map: Dental Deserts 1, Colorado counties with no access to dentists in 2014

Map: Dental Deserts 2, Colorado counties with limited dental access
Colorado counties with limited dental access in 2014.
Map: Dental Deserts 3, percentage of dentists accepting Medicaid, by county
The percentage of dentists accepting Medicaid, by county, in 2014.
Map: Dental Deserts 4, percentage change in Medicaid enrollment by county
The percentage change in Medicaid enrollment, by county, in Colorado from 2013-2014.