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Rural South Central Wisconsin counties struggle to access dental care

The federal government estimates 40% of adults in the US haven’t been to the dentist in the last year, and in rural communities, that statistic is much worse.
Published: Nov. 1, 2021 at 8:52 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 1, 2021 at 10:27 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The federal government estimates 40% of adults in the US haven’t been to the dentist in the last year, and in rural communities, that statistic is much worse. Multiple studies though, rank Wisconsin number one in the nation when it comes to best dental health. But even the high ranking does not mean everyone has adequate access to care.

Lafayette County has a population of 16,715 people with one dentist. Marquette County, with a population of 15,574 people, has two full-time dentists. A lack of options often means many people have to travel more than an hour away for dental care. And once someone finds services, paying for them is a hurdle, too.

With dentist to resident ratios like that, both counties qualify as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA). Any county with fewer than one dentist per 5,000 people qualifies as such according to the federal government.

“One of the biggest barriers we encounter in Marquette County when it comes to dental access is that there isn’t an opportunity for our residents to use Badger Care or MA services within the county. So what it means is that those individuals are having to seek care even further away from home,” says Marquette County Health Department Director Jayme Sopha.

Sopha says the health department tries to bridge this gap by focusing on prevention in kids. Twice a year, a dental hygienist goes into all five Marquette County elementary schools for free check-ups and dental education.

“Children who are focusing on their dental health at a young age are more likely to take care of their teeth in adulthood,” said Sopha. “And those who do not are more likely to have heart problems, gingivitis.”

The county also offers free water fluoride treatment to any resident who needs a boost in their water supply at home. To get set up, call the department at 608-297-3135.

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