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Lawmakers tackle statewide dentist shortage with legislative measures

  • / Updated:
  • Staff Report 

State lawmakers are considering a series of bills aimed at addressing the critical shortage of dental care, particularly in rural and high-need areas where the ratio of dental practitioners to residents can be as low as one to 4,000. This shortage has left thousands, including those with disabilities and low-income individuals, struggling to find routine oral care, with some waitlists extending to over 19,000 patients. Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner is leading the charge with a legislative package that includes enhancing reimbursement rates for dental providers, creating employment programs for dental professionals, and proposing sales tax exemptions on oral hygiene products.

Dentists across the state, while supportive of some measures, express skepticism about the proposed solutions’ effectiveness in resolving the complex issues plaguing New York’s oral health care system. Issues such as the high cost of dental education, which results in graduates facing an average debt of $300,000, are contributing to the crisis by discouraging new dentists from practicing in the state or accepting Medicaid and Medicare patients.

The legislative effort seeks to improve access to dental care through both immediate and long-term strategies, including potential student loan repayment programs to incentivize dentists to work in underserved areas. However, concerns remain about the impact of allowing mid-level practitioners to perform dental procedures and whether proposed solutions will significantly increase the number of patients treated.