MCKEE, Ky. (July 20, 2015) — Governor Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers joined public health and university officials today to announce a new dentist recruitment program aimed at promoting sustained oral health and well-being in eastern Kentucky.
The new loan forgiveness program is supported by $500,000 in state funds and is available for dental students who practice in the region. The dental schools at the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville will administer the program, providing two to five awardees $100,000 each for a two-year commitment.
“Reversing the oral health issues facing eastern Kentucky has been a major goal of mine throughout my administration,” Beshear said. “The vast majority of both childhood and adult dental problems could be avoided through routine dental care and other preventive efforts. This unique program and partnership will truly expand dental hygiene and help counter oral disease as a major health risk for our people.”
“One of the reasons why access to dental care has been traditionally low in our region is the sheer fact that we have shipped our talent out for education, with very little incentive to return home to practice dentistry,” said Rogers. “This program will help address the outmigration of our talented young Eastern Kentuckians and serves as another step to improving dental healthcare for our people.”
“The University of Kentucky is deeply invested in improving the health of eastern Kentucky – our work and strategic priorities are focused on transforming those we serve and answering Kentucky questions,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “The Appalachian Dental Loan Forgiveness Program allows Kentucky’s leading dental education programs to put more practitioners on the front lines and improve the oral health of our Appalachian region.”
“This loan repayment program fits within our mission at the University of Louisville to enhance the lives of Kentuckians,” said UofL President James Ramsey. “This program will help UofL dental graduates establish practices in underserved, rural areas to ensure ALL people of the Commonwealth have access to oral health care.”
The announcement today was made in conjunction with the Shaping Our Appalachian Region or SOAR Executive Board meeting at the Jackson Energy Cooperative in McKee.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), dentists completing dental school now come out with a debt of around $280,000. With that in mind, the Kentucky Department of Public Health (DPH) worked with staff at the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville colleges of dentistry to develop a loan forgiveness program as an incentive to attract more providers to eastern Kentucky.
DPH is funding the program, and the universities will offer awardees a $50,000 “up front” payment and $50,000 at the end of the first two-year award cycle.
Eastern Kentucky counties as defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) will be the designated location for the program. Additionally, priority will be given to dental students from eastern Kentucky wishing to return to practice in the designated geographic area.
Eligible candidates include someone who is establishing or joining a new private practice, or purchasing an existing practice in an ARC distressed county. The original intent of the program is to recruit current graduates. Recent graduates are also eligible.
“Many of our UK and UofL dental graduates from the Appalachian counties want to return home to practice – but high levels of student debt complicate their decisions about starting a practice in rural Kentucky,” said M. Raynor Mullins, associate director of the Kentucky Oral Health Research Network. “This new program will help a new cohort of dental graduates return home to serve and realize their dreams.”
“Clearly, one of the greatest obstacles that are evolving in oral health care is that the cost of education has escalated to the point that student debt in some instances is in excess of $300,000,” said John Sauk, dean of the University of Louisville School of Dentistry. “Such economic burdens are limiting many individuals in their choice of where and how to practice. Consequently, going home to serve the community in which they grew up is often not a feasible economic option. The dental loan repayment program that the governor is announcing today will significantly enhance the opportunity for our young highly trained dentists to establish or join a rural practice and ensure oral health care manpower for rural Kentucky. I personally thank Gov. Beshear for his vision and commitment to oral health within the Commonwealth.
According to the Kentucky Department for Public Health, Kentucky ranks 41st in annual dental visits; 45th in the percentage of children with untreated dental decay; and 47th in the percentage of adults 65 and older missing six or more teeth.
“Oral disease is a major health risk for Kentuckians of all ages – particularly our children,” said Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Audrey Tayse Haynes. “These problems are even more pronounced in many of our Appalachian counties where access to care is limited,” “With this new program to recruit providers – along with other initiatives to increase access to care and provide clinical services like screenings and varnish treatments – we have reasons to be optimistic about fixing the problems plaguing Kentuckians’ health.”
As part of his statewide health initiative, kyhealthnow, Gov. Beshear identified oral health as one of the seven target areas for improvement. Specifically, the program aims to reduce the percentage of children with untreated dental decay by 25 percent and increase adult dental visits by 10 percent by the year 2019.
In fact, Beshear created the Smiling Schools initiative in 2011 to provide a protective tooth varnish treatment for elementary-age children in Appalachia during the 2011-2012 school year. The Governor is looking to provide another round of varnishing this school year, as well as expand the number of counties participating in this year’s initiative. His office hopes to make this announcement in the coming weeks.