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Dentist Shortage A State, National Issue

Chair in a dentist's office.

In North Carolina, about half of all kids enrolled in Medicaid did not receive dental care in 2011. That's nothing to brag about, but it's in line with the national average, according to a Pew study released Tuesday

Earlier this year, Pew gave North Carolina an "F" for not doing enough to prevent tooth decay through school programs.

In Pew's new study, North Carolina didn't make the top or bottom of any lists. Like the rest of the country, it's seeing a shortage of dentists and hygienists.

The national dentist to patient ratio is six for every 10,000, according to the study. In 2009, there were only four dentists for every 10,000 people in North Carolina. With the lower ratio, that means there aren't as many dentists available to see Medicaid patients.   

Jane Koppelman is with Pew's Children's Dental Campaign.

"The numbers for North Carolina are fairly sobering," Koppelman says. "In 2011, almost half of the children on Medicaid in your state went without dental care, not even a routine exam." 

The study also found that more than 37 percent of dentists were over the age of 55 and close to retirement.

South Carolina had the sixth worst ranking in the country for its shortage of dentists. Mississippi had the worst ranking and Vermont had the best.