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UCLA revises study on dentists in California

June 26, 2009 |  9:00 am

The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research has revised an earlier study detailing severe shortages of dentists in several California counties.

A technical error — which arose because some ZIP Codes cross into two counties — resulted in underestimating the total number of active dentists and the ratio of dentists to population in some areas. The overall findings remain largely the same: some counties are experiencing a severe shortage, others may soon see shortages when a wave of aging dentists retires.

“In most cases, it didn’t matter,” said the report’s primary author, Nadereh Pourat, director of research planning at the UCLA School of Public Health. “The problem was in the border areas where a ZIP Code crosses two counties.”

Pourat said the problem first came to her attention because Hollister-area dentists who had been contacted by The Times questioned the accuracy of the data. UCLA withdrew the report from its website a few days after the May 28 release and issued a correction last week. In the Hollister case, a medical building just over the county line housed a number of dentists, throwing the numbers off.

Among the corrections:

* The number of dentists practicing in California is 26,500, not the 26,400 previously estimated.

*San Benito County has a ratio of 1.5 dentists per 5,000. Previous estimates were less than 1.

*Inyo County has a ratio of 2.2 dentists per 5,000, previously estimated as less than 1.

*Yuba County, which had not previously been reported as a shortage area, has less than 1 dentist per 5,000 residents.

“The fact doesn’t change,” said Pourat, who released the corrections last week. “There are some areas where there are not a sufficient number of dentists.... You have to travel a long ways.... There’s still problems.”

-- Kimi Yoshino