Dentists aim to make access to care easier, more affordable for Northwoods patientsSubmitted: 04/20/2015
Dentists aim to make access to care easier, more affordable for Northwoods patients
Story By Wren Clair

WISCONSIN - Wisconsin dentists want to break down the barriers to good dental care that exist here in the Northwoods and throughout the state. Accomplishing that task will require changing both the way patients think about preventative treatment and the way dentists handle certain insurance plans.

Some dentists, such Dr. Andrew Lindner of Rhinelander Dental, think that people don't make preventative care a priority because they simply don't enjoy going to the dentist. He hopes he can help change that general perception by convincing parents to bring their kids into his office early in life.

"One of the keys is to have younger children have good dental experiences, because the children that we see that are in their teens and early twenties--that we've been seeing since they were little kids--they like coming to the dentist's office," Lindner said.

He said if children don't get in the habit of going to the dentist regularly, they can end up paying the price later on.

"It creates bigger problems because instead of running in every six months to get your teeth cleaned and have a preventative appointment, they end up waiting until something hurts," Lindner said. "Once something hurts the ship has sailed, generally, and it turns into an extraction or a root canal or some high-dollar, high-inconvenience procedure."

The relative scarcity of dentists' offices in rural areas such as the Northwoods also makes preventative care more difficult by making it harder for patients to find providers that will accept their insurance plans.

"Geography is a big one in the Northwoods, because there's always a clinic that will take your insurance relatively close if you live in a more populated area," Lindner said. "If you live in the Northwoods, we have patients that come from an hour and forty five minutes away to be seen at our office because we take their insurance."

And while many rural patients may have a hard time finding a dentist who will accept their insurance, patients on Medicaid could have it even worse. Many dentists in the state will refuse to treat patients who are on Medicaid because doctors on the state plan get reimbursed at only about 30 cents on the dollar to see a Medicaid patient. Given that low reimbursement rate, many doctors end up losing money if they treat Medicaid patients.

Lindner and other Wisconsin dentists want to make these decisions easier for both the doctors and the patients.

To that end, the Legislature is considering a pilot program that supporters hope will make it easier for dentists to accept certain insurance plans from patients who receive financial assistance.

"Dentists in the state of Wisconsin want to help people that are on financial assistance and are having problems with their teeth," said Lindner.

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