Guest Commentary

Guest Commentary by Kristine Cody As a South Dakota native and USD graduate, I was sad to learn that I would be forced to leave the state I love to pursue my goal of becoming a dentist. In spite of the need for additional dentists in communities throughout our state, South Dakota lacks a dental school, forcing students like myself to go elsewhere for their education.

Next year, I will be attending dental school in Iowa, and while I plan to return home when I have completed my education, many others in my position often do not return to our state and choose to practice elsewhere.

The lack of new dentists and opportunities to study dentistry in South Dakota does nothing to alleviate the critical shortage of dental care providers in our state. South Dakota has only one dentist for every 250 square miles, and a significant percentage of South Dakota�s dentists are nearing retirement. Some surveys have indicated that 30 percent of South Dakota�s dentists plan to retire within 10 years.

As a result, many South Dakotans who already must drive hundreds of miles just to receive basic dental care will be forced to travel an even greater distance when their trusted dentist retires.

The dental care provider shortage has already had significant consequences for many South Dakotans who lack the dental care they desperately need. However, the coming wave of retirements and the lack of incentives for young dentists to practice in South Dakota threaten to make a bad situation even worse.

Without new dentists, even more South Dakotans will be forced to endure significant pain and disease that often occurs when individuals do not receive dental care.

In the face of this crisis, we need quick action from our state and the federal government, to remedy our dental shortage before conditions deteriorate. Recent legislation proposed by Sen. Tom Daschle was a significant first step toward ending the dental care shortage in South Dakota. Daschle�s Dental Health Provider Shortage Act proposes grants to states to increase dental services in underserved areas, the creation of new satellite dental training programs and incentives for private dentists who work in underserved areas.

The legislation would also encourage students like me to study dentistry by offering increased scholarships for dentists and dental hygienists in the National Health Service Corps and expanding the faculty at dental schools near our state. All of these steps would aid efforts to improve dental care, and encourage more of my peers to practice dentistry in communities where we desperately need new dental care providers. This new legislation would significantly aid our state and I sincerely hope Congress will consider it quickly and pass it into law.

While it is unfortunate that legislation like Sen. Daschle�s is even necessary, as someone who will soon be entering the dental profession, I can tell you that it is imperative. If we have a real desire to make sure that rural areas receive dental care on par with big cities, is critical that Congress and our state commit to ending the dentist shortage in our state and providing South Dakotas with the high quality dental care we all deserve.

Kristine Cody was born and raised in Yankton and is a graduate of The University of South Dakota.

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