Rural counties in south-central Wisconsin struggle to access dental care


MADISON, Wisconsin (WMTV) – The federal government estimates that 40% of adults in the United States have not been to the dentist in the past year, and in rural communities, that statistic is much worse. However, several studies rank Wisconsin first in the country for better dental health. But even a high ranking does not mean that everyone has adequate access to care.

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

With such dentist / resident ratios, both counties are considered areas of shortage of health professionals (HPSA). Any county with less than one dentist per 5,000 inhabitants is considered such according to the federal government.

“One of the biggest obstacles we face in Marquette County when it comes to dental access is that there is no ability for our residents to use Badger Care or MA services in the county. This therefore means that these people must seek treatment even further away from their homes, ”explains Jayme Sopha, director of the Marquette County health department.

Sopha says the Department of Health is trying to close this gap by focusing on prevention in children. Twice a year, a dental hygienist visits the five elementary schools in Marquette County for free exams and dental training.

“Children who focus on their dental health at a young age are more likely to take care of their teeth as adults,” Sopha said. “And those who don’t are more likely to have heart problems, gingivitis.”

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

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