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A no lose position

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By Ralph Damiani

Gov. Richardson and Sen. Jeff Bingaman made a joint appearance this week to push the idea of a dental school for the state.

That seems uncontroversial enough.

They announded that New Mexico has a shortage of dentists and state officials plan to study whether it’s feasible to establish a dental school to provide more dental care professionals.

Sounds good.

The men said that the study will look at the costs of establishing and operating a dental school as well as where it should be located.

For support they provided some data, like the fact that New Mexico ranks near the bottom nationally in the number of dentists per capita.

“Dental care and oral health care generally are a tremendous health care need in our state,” Bingaman said, according to The Associated Press.

Which follows that, “the establishment of a dental school, I think, makes sense as a part of that long-term solution.”

Good.

So, why do we need a protracted study?

They announced that no contractor has been selected to conduct the study, there’s no deadline when the study will be finished (although it will take at least a year to complete) and there’s no idea on where to put the facility.

Huh?

We are confused. If this is such a good idea and the need is so apparently clear, why this long delay and the need for a study?

New Mexico has a medical school, there are programs here for training dental hygienists and the University of New Mexico has a residency program for students after they finish dental school.

But residents must leave the state to attend a dental school.

“We have a critical shortage of dentists, especially in rural areas,” the governor said.

Then do something. And it seems that an announcement that is no announcement and the proposal for a study is simply ridiculious.

They clearly stated a need. Do something.

The AP reports that there are 34 dentists for each 100,000 residents. That’s well below the national average of 64 dentists per 100,000.

The study will be financed with $95,000 in federal money Bingaman helped obtain earlier this year. Richardson pledged the state would match that with $95,000.

It seems to us that this money would be better spent as seed money on the $46 million it will cost to plan, build and equip a dental school in New Mexico, with perhaps $11 million a year to operate a school with a class of about 30 dentists a year.

It seems to us that supporting such a school – not just talking about it - is what is needed.