The Florida Dental Association wants state legislators to allocate nearly $2 million for programs that would increase access to dental care, especially for rural residents and those who are uninsured.
As of September 2022, a record 6 million Floridians lived in areas without access to sufficient dental care, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Poor oral care can have a negative toll on someone’s overall health.
Now, the Florida Dental Association is lobbying to increase access to care.
Joe Anne Hart, who represents the association, said that it can be difficult for dentists to practice in rural areas because of the student loan debt.
Dental school graduates in 2020 carried an average estimated debt of about $300,000, according to the American Dental Education Association.
To incentivize providers to work in areas that lack good health care and to help clear debt, some states — like Arizona, New York and Ohio — have student loan repayment programs for dentists. The programs, which are funded through the state, offer loan relief to dentists who accept Medicaid or work in underserved communities.
In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature took steps to adopt a similar program. But money has never been allocated in the state budget to get it off the ground.
This session, which ends in May, has yet to buck the trend.
In budget drafts recommended by House and Senate committees last week, about $250,000 was included to support an annual free dental care clinic hosted by the dental association. Still, no money was allocated to the student loan repayment program or a separate donated dental services program, which the association said will require $1.77 million to support.
“I’m passionate about increasing access to care because it is something people need to maintain good overall health,” Hart said. “We hope lawmakers will act to help bring care to thousands of patients in need.”