“Dental care is one of the least accessible types of health care and is disproportionately inaccessible for people of color and those who have low incomes,” Cutts notes.
La Crosse County is considered a dental health professional shortage area, according to Cutts, and in 2019 an estimated 34.2% of adults aged 18 and over had not visited a dentist in the past year. The demand for access to low-cost dental care is simply too large given the low number of dentists in La Crosse County who take adult Medicaid, combined with the lack of affordable self-pay options for low-income residents, Cutts said.
Scenic Bluffs Community Health Center, which is supported by federal funding, does have a dental program for low-income residents, but can only see patients at their La Crosse location two days a month and has a two-year wait list for routine adult dental care. Scenic Bluffs is one of two federally qualified health centers in the local region. The second is in Black River Falls.
Meanwhile, there’s only one private sector dentist who accepts adults with Medicaid in La Crosse County. Cutts said part of the reason for that is Medicaid’s poor reimbursement rate for dentists in Wisconsin. The shortage of options locally makes it an uphill battle for many to get the oral health care they need.
“This is why many people continue to struggle with dental pain and untreated dental disease, resulting in longstanding implications for oral health, general health, and mental health,” Cutts said. “There are connections in the literature between poor oral health and everything from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and poor birth outcomes. Addressing oral health is an important part of holistic well-being.”