Stanislaus and Merced Counties Face Dental Provider Shortages

Legacy Health Endowment



The lack of dentists and specialists in rural Californian counties leads to high rates of tooth decay and preventable dental emergencies, especially among low-income residents. Oral health (dental care) is one of the greatest unmet healthcare needs of all Americans and rural Americans. The California Central Valley is a prime example of this crisis, including Stanislaus and Merced Counties.

Recognizing the need for change, Legacy Health Endowment (LHE) and the EMC Health Foundation collaborated with the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry to create a report that examines the current and future dental needs of children and the elderly across Stanislaus and Merced Counties, and how best to bring more accessible and affordable dental care services to people in need.

While most children in these counties have dental coverage and utilize the dental program supported by Medi-Cal, there is an urgent need for greater and earlier access to preventive care. There are also care gaps among the elderly. Disability, common chronic diseases, and the medications used to treat them present unique risks to oral health in older adults. Yet millions of older Californians do not qualify for Denti-Cal and have limited or no dental coverage after retirement. In addition, the out-of-pocket cost for care forces many to limit or forgo dental care altogether.

The EMC Health foundation’s first step was to sponsor local students attending the UOP School of Dentistry with a fellowship that pays 100% of their tuition. In turn, they agree to return to the Greater LHE and EMC Health Foundation Communities to work as a dentist for three years after graduation, treating all patients’ needs.

As EMC Health Foundation and LHE sponsor local students to have a chance to become a dentist and serve their community, their goal is two-fold: to help ensure they graduate debt-free and ready to address the dental needs of every citizen; and begin to build a strong cadre of English, Spanish, Farsi, Punjabi, and Afghan speaking dentists to serve the Central Valley, giving hope and opportunity and valuing children and the elderly.

Improving access to high-quality dental healthcare and oral health status in Merced and Stanislaus Counties cannot be achieved overnight or with one policy. Instead, it will require lawmakers, healthcare professionals, and advocates to overcome the current disparities in oral healthcare and bridge the gaps.

In addition, it is imperative that we recognize the need for culturally competent bilingual providers in all areas of medicine and dental care.

About Legacy Health Endowment

Legacy Health Endowment is a nonprofit healthcare grantmaking foundation that works solely within Merced and Stanislaus counties in California’s Central Valley. LHE is not a hospital or healthcare services provider

About EMC Health Foundation

EMC Health Foundation was created to promote and expand care for people living within our community. EMC Health Foundation hopes to address their spiritual, physical, and psychosocial health.

The foundation has a narrow geographical coverage area – every community south of Modesto in Stanislaus County (Turlock, Denair, Ceres, Crows Landing, Newman, Patterson, Hughson, Keyes, Wesley, Grayson, and West Modesto) and eight cities (Atwater, Ballico, Hilmar, Winton, Santa Nella, Stevinson, Gustine, Livingston, and Delhi) in Northern Merced County.

The EMC Health Foundation is defined and motivated by its values, those core beliefs that determine its character and behavior.

FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Caroline LM on Unsplash.