Dr. Glendon Cox is pretty sure Kansas could alleviate its dentist shortage by starting a dental school.
The problem is the price tag.
Cox, vice dean of the Kansas University School of Medicine, said KU had been in talks the last year about helping establish a dental school, probably in Wichita. But the likelihood of that happening seems slim.
"In an ideal world, we would have had a dental school for quite some time," Cox said. "Unfortunately, based on the discussion and data we've seen, to start a new dental school in this day and age is extremely costly."
Kansas has never had a dental school, though a report issued Thursday by the Kansas Health Institute recommends the formation of one.
In recent decades, the state has made arrangements with the University of Missouri-Kansas City to send up to 20 Kansans to the UMKC dental school at in-state tuition rates. In exchange, Missouri students can attend Kansas architecture schools at KU and Kansas State University.
While two-thirds of the new dentists entering Kansas each year are UMKC graduates, there's nothing in place requiring Kansans attending to UMKC to return to their home state to practice.
KU officials have been part of a task force, centered in Wichita, that has been discussing the state's shortage of dentists, especially in rural areas. Studies have shown that doctors and dentists often establish practices near the areas where they completed their education and their residencies.
One option, Cox said, would be for UMKC to start a branch of its dental school at the KU School of Medicine in Wichita or at Wichita State University, which already has a program to train dental hygienists. But that could cost $3 million to $5 million, he said.
Dr. Ed Dismuke, dean of the Wichita medical school campus, said he didn't expect anyone to pursue that option.
"At this point, the thought is the state isn't adequately funding higher education as it is, so we shouldn't be adding programs," Dismuke said.
Two other options include offering to pay off student loans for dentists who practice in under-served areas -- the state already does this for medical students -- and negotiating for additional slots for Kansas residents at UMKC. There typically are 50 to 60 applicants for the 20 slots available.
Even though a dental school might not be in the state's immediate future, there might be another option to get dental students working in the state. Barry Daneman, director of advancement at the UMKC dental school, said he favored establishing a graduate residency certificate program in Wichita as a way to serve poor residents and get dentists working in Kansas.
"There is a serious desire to move that forward," he said.
Costs -- and who would pay those costs -- have yet to be determined, Daneman said.
"Frankly, whoever would partner with us, there's really no advantage to any of the institutions financially," Daneman said. "It's frustrating, if you care about trying to provide oral health to the state of Kansas, to look at what we have now and see we're not solving the problem."