Dental access in rural Alabama shrinking due to retirement

Alabama News

DOTHAN, Ala. (WDHN) — Dentistry in Alabama is in jeopardy as many dentists in smaller towns throughout the state are getting closer to retirement age.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the largest population of dentists are in the more urban areas of the state, including Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville, and Montgomery. The biggest impact of retiring dentists is in many of Alabama’s smaller, rural communities, many of which have fewer than 10 dentists per county.

“Sixty percent of our local dentists are looking to retire,” Dr. Roth Rube Lewis of Southeast Dental in Dothan said. “I know of three offices looking to sell. They’ve just had nobody come.”

Lewis said about half of his patients are from outside of the Dothan area, even coming from out of state to get dental work done.

“Last year, we had 1,500 new patients,” said Lewis. “Usually, a more urban dental office is happy to get 15 to 20 new patients a month. We have several of our patients that’s five from Blakely, Georgia, and Bonifay, Florida, just to come to Dothan.”

With the lack of dentists throughout rural Alabama, children that need dental work might have trouble getting in the door.

“There’s only one pediatric dentist here in Dothan,” Lewis said. “They are booked out two to three months and it’s hard for children, especially if they need work done and can’t get in anywhere.”

According to Lewis, recent graduates of dental school aren’t moving to Dothan either.

“Students graduate now with $500,000 dollars in debt,” said Lewis. “You can’t hang a shingle and open a dental practice. You have to become an employee somewhere most of the time. It’s just corporate offices hiring and those are in bigger urban areas. No dental student fresh out of school wants to make a career in Dothan.”

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