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Bringing Dentists to Rural Iowa with FIND

Posted on March 2, 2023 in Company News

For 20 years, Delta Dental of Iowa has provided loan repayment programs to attract dentists to serve

For the past 20 years, Delta Dental of Iowa has provided educational loan repayment to dentists that commit to serving rural Iowa populations as well as underserved populations across the state. Like many rural states, Iowa has faced challenges in attracting and retaining dentists in smaller communities. Fulfilling Iowa's Need for Dentists (FIND) project is a collaborative public-private partnership to meet the oral health needs across the street. To date, 57 private-practice dentists have been awarded, and the loan repayment program is a well-recognized resource for emerging dentists. The program continues to be a well-recognized resource for emerging dentists.

Where are all of the dentists?

The FIND project was created to address the shortage of access to dentists in rural Iowa. As the state’s population has shifted toward urban areas, dental talent has also moved toward the cities. With no one to replace a growing number of retiring rural dentists, communities are left with few options for oral care.

Eighty-seven of Iowa’s 99 counties have been designated dental shortage priorities needing closer access to dental resources. Twenty of those counties have only one or fewer full-time dentists or are preparing for vacancies as their dentists near retirement.

According to FIND project award recipient Dr. Maria Fuller, rural Iowa offers dentists a huge opportunity. “Having a rural practice, I thought I might be limited with patient population and size of practice, but I’ve come to find out that rural communities really are in need of dentists. You can be as busy as you want to be in rural Iowa.”

Hear more from Dr. Maria Fuller 

Helping Iowa’s underserved populations

The initial costs of starting a dental practice are significant. A new practice can require as much as $500,000 to update an existing facility and purchase new equipment and technology. This expense, combined with the educational debt of a dentist, which averages nearly $300,000, can be a roadblock for new graduates.

Through FIND, dentists can receive dental education debt repayment of up to $200,000 over a five-year period if serving a high-priority county or $125,000 over a five-year period in other counties. As part of the agreement for receiving this money, the dentist must allocate 35% of patient visits to underserved populations, including 15% which are insured by Medicaid.

FIND recipient Dr. Kent Downing describes his care for underserved patients, “The purpose of FIND is to increase access to care for those that are underserved. It sadly is often a struggle to receive adequate care. They might need quite a bit of work to get their mouth back into a healthy state, so it’s rewarding to be able to really transform and give somebody back their smile.”

Hear more from Dr. Kent Downing

FIND is filling the void

We believe healthy smiles and healthy lives are closely connected. As a not-for-profit insurance company, we aim to build stronger communities by investing in actions that promote and improve health — removing barriers, expanding access to resources and increasing equity. That’s why we partner with others who share our commitment to making an impact. 

Through the FIND project, dentists can fill a void in rural areas and provide better access to quality dental care for underserved populations. We are proud to continue our support of the FIND project and collaboration with rural communities, partners, and dentists dedicated to bringing care to all Iowans.

Learn more about FIND, including a list of past recipients, on the FIND website.