A West Virginia University board-certified pediatric dentist, whose research emphasis is on the availability of oral healthcare in Appalachia, is a contributor to the most recent report on oral healthcare access in West Virginia.
The West Virginia Oral Health Coalition and Harmony Health Foundation collaborated on the white paper, “Beyond the Waiting Room: The State of Dental Care in West Virginia”. In the report’s November 8 release, it finds “alarming workforce shortages, economic challenges and disparities in access to dental care disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations.”
Meghan Bastin, DMD, MPH, assistant professor with WVU School of Dentistry and pediatric dentistry provider through WVU Dental, believes attention to and action sparked by the report can make a difference.
“The reality is that our oral healthcare system is beyond capacity and many patients who weren’t already established in a dental home are only able to seek episodic, urgent care when needed. In the process of rebuilding our workforce, we are prioritizing prevention of disease to ensure fewer people have those urgent needs,” Bastin said.
According to the report, the plan advocates advanced technology and telehealth integration to reduce wait times for patients and enhance care quality. There are six policy suggestions.
“One of the things our state struggles with is transportation to Morgantown for healthcare services. Teledentistry could help connect people to dentists virtually and additional mobile dental clinics might support a system where patients can stay in their home and oral healthcare providers come to them,” Bastin said. “In the realm of preventive care, education and awareness of salivary diagnostic technology could help people learn about their risk factors. App-connected toothbrushes can help children learn where they’re missing brushing. Those are at-home measures that can be taken to maintain a healthy mouth. These technologies also customize care on a patient-by-patient basis.”
Similar to percentages in Ohio and Michigan, 24.1% of West Virginia dental sites in the recent survey were not accepting new patients. And, for those accepting new patients, the average wait for an appointment is more than two months or 70.1 days in West Virginia whereas first-appointment wait times in Michigan and Ohio were significantly shorter at 61.2 and 51.9 days respectively.
Dr. Bastin clarified that although the oral healthcare field is short-staffed like so many other industries, providers are doing their best to help patients with immediate and urgent needs. However, she said additional providers, specifically those trained in pediatric dentistry who care for patients with intellectual and developmental challenges and behavioral issues, will help tremendously in the Mountain State.
“The report showed that we average about 49 dentists per 100,000 people in West Virginia. The national average is about 61 dentists per 100,000 people. One of the already well-established ways to get providers to stay in a state is to offer the training they need in that state,” Bastin said.
The July 2024 launch of a new advanced education program at WVU School of Dentistry is highly anticipated.
“One of the things we’re doing here at WVU in the pediatric dental department is establishing a brand new pediatric dental residency program. It is super important for the state because as the state’s only dental school we didn’t have that specialty option for students. They would have to leave West Virginia to gain that training and then return,” Bastin said, “It will be really nice to grow our own and empower those who are interested treating the state’s youngest and sometimes most vulnerable population to do so at WVU.”
To be able to begin recruiting for our new pediatric dentistry residency program is essential for our goal as a land-grant institution to advance health care, specifically the oral health care of children, in West Virginia, - Dr. Dami Kim, residency program director, said.
Click to read WVU to offer first pediatric dentistry residency program in West Virginia.
The white paper, “Beyond the Waiting Room: The State of Dental Care in West Virginia”, concluded there are disproportionate barriers in receiving dental care for patients with exceptional need. It suggests reform in provider wages, insurance availability and attention to “shifting health care regulations and requirements affecting provider autonomy and patient relationships.”
WVU Dental is the clinical practice component of WVU School of Dentistry.
WVU Dental providers include faculty, resident and student dentists. Board certified pediatric dentists at WVU Dental include Dr. Gina Graziani, department chair, Dr. Dami Kim, post graduate program director and Dr. Meghan Bastin, assistant professor.