Dental care shortage in rural Iowa towns - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dental care shortage in rural Iowa towns

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ALLISON (KWWL) -- Iowa has a few cavities when it comes to dental coverage.  Right now 55 of the state's 99 counties are running short on care, but there's a state initiative aimed that is working to address this problem, while offering relief for recent college grads.

The program is recruiting dentists right out of college to locate in rural areas, and in exchange, the dentists get grants to help repay their student loans.

Dr. Travis Harbaugh is a 2009 graduate of The University of Iowa College of Dentistry. Growing up in Dike Iowa, Harbaugh knew he always wanted to work in a small town.

"Just the fact everybody knows everybody and I wanted my family to grow up in a small town atmosphere too," said Harbaugh.

Right now 55 out of Iowa's 99 counties are now designated as dentist shortage areas. Harbaugh says he really isn't surprised.

"There are not too many dentists moving out into rural Iowa and there is a large number of dentists that are retiring within rural Iowa," Harbaugh said. "So there are a large number of practices available and there is not enough new dentists looking to practice in rural Iowa."

A town of a little over one thousand people Harbaugh says his patients really appreciate him being right there in Allison.

Dr. George North has been a dentist with Allison Family Dental for fifty years now and played a significant role in bringing Dr. Harbaugh on.

"We each have our own practice, but obviously he has been instrumental in setting up my practice here and I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to him," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh says when the time comes for him to bring on a new dentist to this small town dentistry he wouldn't think twice.

Harbaugh is getting $100,000 in loan repayment help from the state program, and because of the whole experience, he's promising to devote 35% of his practice to Medicaid-eligible, elderly, disabled and other under-served patients.

Online Reporter: Nikki Newbrough

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