Birmingham dentist explains Alabama dental healthcare crisis

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – Alabama is facing a dental healthcare crisis. As far as the dentist to population ratio, a local dentist says our state is last place.

Some people are forced to drive hours to find dental care. Several counties have either one or no dentists practicing at all.

“Our supply of dentists is really low,” said Dr. Stephen Mitchell. “We have fewer dentists per person in the state than anywhere else in the country and that leads to crisis.”

Dr. Mitchell is the director of the Sparks Dental Clinic and the UAB International Dentist Program co-director.

He says while they love to treat patients, they don’t want people having to drive hours just to get basic dental care, yet it happens all too often.

Dr. Mitchell says Greene and Clay counties have no dentists and several other counties have only one. He says UAB is working to grow the number of dentists practicing in the state.

“Five, six, seven years ago, we typically graduated 56 dentists,” he said. “By next year, we’ll be graduating 104 dentists in a graduating class so the supply of dentists will be better.”

They have to be strategic about recruiting as well. Dr. Mitchell says students from rural counties are more likely to go back for work, but they also want to expose other students to the need too.

“It’s critical that our graduates experience people who are in our rural communities and the best way to do that is to do some of their dental education outside of the downtown southside Birmingham,” said Dr. Mitchell. “Let’s get them out into the place where the people have need.”

There is so much more that goes into improving dental care here in Alabama.

Dr. Mitchell says there are also scholarship programs to help encourage graduating dental students to serve the underserved, but this is just the beginning of a very long process.

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