Dental health services struggling in rural areas: ‘It's kind of a silent need that people don't talk about’

KIMT talks with an expert about why adding providers won’t necessarily help the problem and why they say it’s getting worse.

Posted: May 15, 2019 9:09 AM

ROCHESTER, Minn. – Getting dental care in rural areas of Minnesota, including the Southeastern region, is an issue and an expert said it’s only getting worse.

“I can see in my years here with this organization, that it has grown substantially year after year,” Sarah Hayes, Executive Director of Children’s Dental Health Services, said.

The organization helps provide children in need low-cost dental services at a clinic in Rochester and by traveling to bring the services to other communities.

Hayes explained two reasons for why she sees the problem getting worse. One, she said is the political climate, people are afraid to apply for state assistance that would help cover oral health services. And the other, is that Minnesota has a complex insurance system and it’s difficult for people to receive insurance.

But even for people who do get state assistance, it’s not easy to find a provider who accepts it.

Hayes said that’s because Minnesota has one of the worst reimbursement rates in the country. That means businesses lose a lot of money by accepting state insurance.

“Most of them would love to help whoever they can,” Hayes said. “You know, people are good people. But when it's not good business, what are you supposed to do? It makes it very hard. It leaves providers in a really bad spot and then the patients are in a bad spot.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, only 3 in 10 people in Minnesota who are under state aid went to a dental health appointment in 2017.

“The need is much more severe than people realize. It's kind of a silent need that people don't talk about,” Hayes said.

A new dental provider, Northwest Dental Group, is opening in Byron and we asked Hayes if this could help the problem. But, she said only if it accepts state insurance.

“It will only be able to help the problem though if the provider will accept medical assistance reimbursement. If they aren't able to accept that and maintain they're practice, then unfortunately it's not really helping the population that we focus on,” she said.

Northwest Dental Group does not accept state insurance reimbursement but it’s new location in Byron will still help people get more access to dental services.

The provider tells KIMT some of their clients travel as far as 50 miles to get dental care. By opening another location with different hours, it will allow more patients to be seen. Northwest Dental Group opens its Byron location on Wednesday, May 15, 2019.

To learn more about dental care services in Minnesota click here.

To learn more about Children’s Dental Health Services click here.

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