I first knew I wanted to be a dentist when I was 10 years old, after a traumatic bicycle accident led me to the local dentist’s office and I received the care I needed from a kind and experienced provider. Now, as a recent graduate of Oregon Health and Science University’s School of Dentistry, I’m able to make this same type of difference in my patients’ lives, and to do so as a trusted health care provider in a rural community.
As Oregon lawmakers debate health care — and oral health care — during the 2017 legislative session, it’s critical they are aware of some of the key challenges and solutions helping to address them in rural parts of the state.
I am the only dentist in the small town of Riddle. The decision to practice in a rural area is not an easy one. There are fewer people — translating to fewer patients overall — and fewer who view dental care as a health necessity. Paying off debt from student loans is also more difficult in rural areas. My student debt was a huge factor for me in deciding where I would practice.
Luckily, Oregon has some programs in place to help more dentists practice in rural parts of our state, including loan repayment programs as well as loan forgiveness offered through Scholars for a Healthy Oregon. The state’s rural tax credit is another incentive helping more dentists to work in underserved communities.
An eight year old recently came into my office after chipping his teeth. I immediately recalled the feeling I first had when a dentist put me on the path to recovery after that awful bike accident back when I was 10.
When someone needs a professional dentist, it’s essential they have access to one, regardless of how much money they make or where they live. I hope state lawmakers will remember this as they discuss health care in the coming weeks. We must continue supporting programs helping to ensure a licensed dentist is available for all Oregonians, whether they live in a city like Portland or a small town in rural Oregon.