Note: Linda Loranger, Senior Vice President and Director, Health Policy Team, leads our oral health work here at Burness Communications. This piece highlights serious oral health access issues in the state of Washington, but it is an issue that affects the entire country. Close to 50 million people live in areas where they can’t get dental care and millions more cannot afford it.
Last month, a prominent annual assessment of health showed just how starkly different life can be county to county, state to state. It demonstrated that your ZIP code can dictate how long and how well you live. But it also shattered the argument that a dental shortage doesn’t exist.
For the first time ever, the assessment, known as the County Health Rankings and produced annually by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (a Burness client), included access to dental care as one of the key measures affecting health in a county. Oral health is critical to overall health yet thousands of people can’t get it. The Rankings show just how dramatic the disparities are when it comes to getting dental care.
In Washington state, in Skamania County, the ratio of Washington residents to dentists is 11,122 to 1. Across the state, in Whitman County, it is 3,626 to 1. For the lucky residents of King County, the ratio is 1,063 residents to every dentist.
Keep in mind that the Rankings, which are nationwide, assess the national benchmark at a ratio of 1,500 patients to one dentist. In other words, if all counties were to strive for a healthy ratio of dentists, this is the goal. Skamania County has a long way to go.