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The 12 States with the Largest Dentist Shortages

While many areas have plenty of dental professionals (or, in many cases, too many dental professionals), other regions have localized dentist shortages. Here's a look at the states with the biggest deficits.
Jared Kaltwasser
PUBLISHED: Tuesday, August 23, 2016
In an article published Monday, reporter Ed Rabinowitz discussed the increasing problem of market saturation facing dentists and dental hygienists. In many areas, the market already has enough dental professionals, creating a surplus and causing business and career headaches for dentists.

However, as the article noted, much of the problem has to do with an unequal distribution of the dental health workforce. While some areas are flush with dental professionals, other areas have major shortages. Below, we take a look at the states with the biggest shortages of dentists.

The US Department of Health and Human Services regularly publishes reports on what it terms “Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs).” These areas are local municipalities and regions in which the number of healthcare professionals doesn’t meet the government’s standard of adequacy. In this case, the government says any area with a population-to-provider ratio of more than 3,500 to 1 qualifies as an HPSA. If the area has population or geographic factors that cause it to have an unusually high need, the government’s benchmark ratio is 3,000 to 1.

For each state, the government adds up the number of HPSAs, along with the percentage of need met in those areas, and the number of dental health professionals that would be required in order to eliminate all of the state's HPSA designations (provided those new professionals were distributed throughout the state based on need).

Overall, according to HHS, about 50 million Americans live in a Health Professional Shortage Area, when it comes to oral health. On average, the nation’s 5,366 HPSAs have just 39% of the number of dentists needed. In order to eliminate all of the United States’ HPSAs, we would need an additional 7,712 dental health professionals (although those numbers would only be sufficient if those dentists were spread out according to need).

What follows are the 12 states that need the most dental professionals in order to remove their HPSA designations. In addition to the raw number of dentists needed, we’ve included the total HPSA designations in the state, the population of those HPSAs, and the percentage of need met within those areas. All data is current as of today.

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