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Since at least 2007, Idaho has ranked near the bottom when it comes to the number of doctors working in the state.The latest available data from the Association of American Medical Colleges ranks Idaho 49th among states.The Gem State had 184 doctors for every 100,000 people in 2010.There are many factors that contribute to Idaho’s physician shortage; there is limited access to medical education in Idaho, salaries tend to be lower, and it’s tougher to recruit in rural areas.In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has designated 39 of Idaho’s 44 counties as Health Professional Shortage Areas.In an effort to encourage more doctors to practice in Idaho, the state subsidizes the cost of medical school for 28 students in Washington and Utah per year. It also has two incentive programs; the Rural Healthcare Access Program and the Rural Physician Incentive Program.The Rural Healthcare Access Program is a way for Idaho communities to recruit doctors by offering signing bonuses or student loan repayments, as well as developing tele-health projects and improving access to care.The Rural Physician Incentive Program is a loan repayment program for doctors who chose to practice in a rural part of the state. It’s open to doctors from all schools, though preference is given to WWAMI and University of Utah graduates. Doctors are eligible to apply for up to $50,000 of loan repayment.

There's A Dentist Shortage In Idaho

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Oregon and Idaho need more dentists. That's according to a new study out Tuesday from the Pew Charitable Trusts. It puts Oregon and Idaho among the top 10 states with the worst shortages.

Unless you live in a rural area, you probably haven't felt the dearth of dentists found in the Pew study. As Portland dentist Jill Price puts it, the problem isn't so much a shortage as poor distribution.

“And we need to find ways to move people into the outlying areas," Price says.

The Pew report finds that a little more than 17 percent of people in Idaho and Oregon live in what are known as shortage areas. That's where there may be only one dentist for roughly 5,000 people. But Price, president of the Oregon Dental Association, says loan forgiveness programs and internships in rural areas may be changing those numbers.

“Students are actually going out to these small towns and they end up falling in love with being the small town dentist," Price says.

In Washington, the dental association has a program to place dentists in places like Walla Walla, Yakima and Toppenish. Idaho offers providers grants to move to rural areas.

Although, the Idaho State Dental Association takes issue with Pew's findings, saying all Idahoans are within 60 miles or less of a dentist.

Another more controversial idea, and one recommended by the Pew report, is licensing “dental therapists.” These are practitioners who fall somewhere between a dental hygienist and a dentist. Typically, they can fill cavities and do minor extractions without a dentist present. A bill that passed the 2011 Oregon legislature includes these practitioners as part of a pilot program; the idea has so far failed in the Washington legislature.

But the number of providers isn't the only challenge. The American Dental Association released a report this week the finds an increasing number of young people are going to emergency rooms for their untreated toothaches because they don't have health insurance.

Copyright 2013 Northwest News Network