Kansas needs more dentists

Different possibilities considered for opening up more training slots

0 | Legislature, Health Care Delivery

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Dental hygienist Holly Blick cleans a student's teeth at Baldwin Elementary School in Baldwin City.

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Kansas needs more dentists, but it doesn’t have a dental school.

That’s why the state cut a deal with Missouri.

Each year, Missouri sets aside 20 slots at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry and 15 slots at the University of Missouri-St. Louis School of Optometry for students from Kansas.

Kansas, in turn, opens its architecture schools at the University of Kansas and Kansas State University.

Both states allow the other’s students to pay in-state tuition.

The agreement expires June 30, 2011, and is the subject of ongoing negotiations.

According to a Kansas Board of Regents report, Kansas has 93 students enrolled in UMKC’s dental program and 12 in the UM-St. Louis optometry program.

There are 209 Missouri students are enrolled in the architecture program at KU; 254 at K-State.

Pushing for more slots

Last week, the Kansas Dental Association urged a legislative committee to press UMKC for “five or six” additional slots for Kansas dentistry students and to consider requiring that the students return to Kansas to work in underserved areas.

“The idea is that for every year of in-state tuition, they’d put in a year in an underserved area,” said KDA Executive Director Kevin Robertson.

For dental students, he said, the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition is about $30,000 a year.

The association also proposed approaching the dental schools at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and at Creighton University in Omaha about similar tuition-swap arrangements.

“UMKC would be our first choice, but it doesn’t have to be our only choice,” Robertson said.

Last year, a Kansas Department of Health and Environment survey found that roughly 70 percent of the dentists practicing in Kansas had graduated from UMKC; 17 percent from Creighton University; 9 percent from the University of Nebraska.

“We’ve talked to Kansas in the past,” said Dr. Curtis Kuster, dean of admissions at Nebraska. “The willingness to do something is there certainly but as yet there’s been nothing official.”

Kuster noted that three states bordering Nebraska -Kansas, South Dakota, and Wyoming - do not have dental schools.

Wyoming, he said, pays Nebraska and Creighton University to each set aside four slots a year for Wyoming students who are expected to return and practice in Wyoming.

South Dakota contracts with Nebraska to send and supervise students in South Dakota safety net clinics and underserved areas.

At one time, Nebraska and Kansas exchanged dental students for veterinary students, Kuster said.

“Nebraska doesn’t have a veterinary school,” he said.

The arrangement with Kansas ended several years ago when Nebraska chose to send its veterinary students to Iowa State University instead of K-State.

Creighton University dental school has in-state-tuition contracts with Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, and Nebraska.

“We are a private, Jesuit institution,” said Dr. Neal Norton, assistant dean of admissions. “One of the things we’re founded on is service, and one of the things we especially try to do is serve states that don’t have dental schools.“

Norton said Creighton takes 10 students a year from Utah a year, eight from Idaho and four from Wyoming. The number of New Mexico students varies year to year.

Open to negotiation

Creighton University would be open to negotiating a similar contract with Kansas, he said, but because it is a private institution it’s not in a position to trade tuition breaks.

The Kansas Dental Association, Peterson said, likely will ask the 2011 Legislature to consider expanding the state’s agreement with Missouri, contracting with the Nebraska universities, or both.

“Maybe – if we have something else to offer Missouri – we can expand the agreement with UMKC,” Peterson said. “But I think Nebraska would have to be paid the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition, which is what Wyoming does now.”

At $30,000 apiece, five students would cost Kansas $150,000, which would come to $600,000 over the four years they would need to graduate.

“That sounds like a lot of money and it is but it’s still substantially cheaper than the state creating its own school of dentistry,” Peterson said.

The Kansas Board of Regents has estimated that start-up costs alone would be between $15 million and $87 million, depending on the size and scope of the school.