Future Dentist Shortage Possible in Iowa, Especially Rural Areas

Published: Feb. 21, 2016 at 3:37 PM CST
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University of Iowa researchers think it's possible the state will see a shortage of dentists, especially in rural areas.

The Iowa Public Policy Center's four-part study shows something that's happening across the globe. Dentists are nearing retirement.

The data showed Iowa dentists 55 and older nearly doubled from 23 percent to 42 percent between 1997 and 2013.

Almost half of Iowa's dentists are near retirement age.

"We're probably going to see some shortages in rural areas that heretofore did not exist, with the advancing age of dentists that are practicing in rural areas and then retiring," said Raymond Kuthy of the UI College of Dentistry

And there are already fewer dentists working in rural areas. The study showed dentists practicing in rural communities dropped steadily between 1997 and 2013, 49 percent to 36 percent.

One third of Iowa's private-practice dentists are concentrated in the state's three biggest metro areas.

"I think that some have to do with services that are available in bigger cities. We're also seeing a trend from solo to group practice. You find more group practices located in urban areas," said Julie Reynolds of the UI College of Dentistry.

Researchers didn't offer any fixes to the potential problem. They said their data simply suggests preparation is needed.

Officials plan to share findings with the Iowa Dental Association. They will also help rural communities understand the data and develop strategies for the future.

About 75 percent of Iowa's dentists graduated from the UI College of Dentistry.