Campus News

UK Partners With Others to Train More Dentists in Rural Areas

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (Sept. 7, 2011) – Gov. Steve Beshear today announced a new Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and higher education partnership to enhance sustainable, collaborative dental health education and care in eastern Kentucky. Morehead State University (MSU), the University of Pikeville (UPIKE) and the University of Kentucky (UK), through its College of Dentistry, will partner in the design of the Appalachian Rural Dental Educational Partnership Plan.  The goal:  to train more dentists to practice in rural areas and give them the tools necessary to set up thriving dental practices in eastern Kentucky.

“Maintaining proper dental care is a fundamental health matter that affects every Kentuckian, yet not every Kentuckian has access to adequate dental treatment,” Gov. Beshear said.  “Implementing this planning project is an essential step toward recruiting and educating more dentists in Appalachia who can provide the quality care our citizens need.  Thanks to ARC and each university involved in taking the lead on this worthy and important project for our state.” 

The Appalachian Rural Dental Educational Partnership Plan is funded by a $400,000 ARC grant, as well as $127,293 from UK, $82,035 from UPIKE and $47,873 from MSU. 

The partnership’s main goal is to design and implement a program to increase the number of practicing dentists in Appalachia through enhanced training, recruitment and educational assistance. Through the program’s implementation, potential dental care providers will not only have access to high-quality oral health education, but will also learn how to operate financially sound rural dental practices. The participating universities will assess national dental education models with similar objectives before designing and developing dental programs and DMD degree options for eastern Kentucky. 

“The majority of eastern Kentuckians have struggled to sustain quality dental health, and one of the barriers to maintaining good dental health is poor access of quality dental care,” said Department for Local Government (DLG) Commissioner Tony Wilder. “I commend Gov. Beshear, ARC and the universities for creating and expanding opportunities for dentists to provide much-needed quality care for our Appalachian communities.”  

The most recent Kentucky Dental Provider Workforce Analysis estimated there will be 2,064 practicing dentists in 2016, a loss of 286 dentists from the state total in 2006.  This study also documented the uneven distribution of dentists – with the lowest numbers of dentists per population in the rural eastern and western counties. A January 2010 re-licensure data analysis found that of Kentucky’s 2,348 practicing dentists, 40 percent were age 55 or older.

“This is another example of how collaboration between educational institutions can benefit citizens of Kentucky,” MSU President Wayne D. Andrews said. “A lot of hard work by each university went into this and we are extremely proud to be able to offer this program. Dental health is very important to overall health and we know that many people are struggling to afford dental treatment at the moment, so the program will undoubtedly improve access to dental care.”

“We know that if we can break a cycle of poor health, we can begin to break cycles of poverty. Cycles of despair can become legacies of hope,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “We also, increasingly, know that partnerships and greater collaboration are the best – and, perhaps, only – way to address major challenges. Against the backdrop of a still challenged national economy, it is even more important that we engage in strategic alliances and partnerships. Uncommon resolve can be utilized to tackle common concerns and address commonly held challenges. Today’s announcement represents a unique partnership: Federal funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission; leadership at the state level from the Governor and his team; a commitment of resources from the state’s flagship institution, Kentucky’s public institution dedicated to serving the people of Eastern Kentucky, and a critically important college with deep roots in Eastern Kentucky.”

“Poor oral health is a serious problem in Eastern Kentucky,” said UPIKE President Paul E. Patton.  “The University of Pikeville is pleased to join in this partnership with the University of Kentucky and Morehead State University to address the issue. This effort will be a part of our continued programs of service to the people of Central Appalachia.”

The Appalachian Rural Dental Education Program is the second announcement in a month from Gov. Beshear as a part of his Healthy Smiles Kentucky initiative, a groundbreaking effort launched in 2009 aimed at improving the dental health of Kentucky’s young people. Two weeks ago, Gov. Beshear heralded a new pilot program called “Smiling Schools,” also funded in part by ARC, which will improve dental health for 25,000 Kentucky children. 

To learn more about the Healthy Smiles Kentucky initiative, visit

Established in 1965, ARC partners with federal, state and local governments in an effort to support sustainable community and economic growth throughout Appalachia by funding projects that range from education and job training to housing and business expansion to transportation and infrastructure development.