I recently read two viewpoints in The Olympian, both from dentists who acknowledge that access to dental care is a paramount issue in our state; this we have known for years. Almost all of Washington’s counties don’t have the provider capacity to meet the dental needs of everyone.
Even more deficient are dental services for Medicaid patients and the uninsured. Nine out of 10 dentists won’t accept Medicaid for adult patients thus the only option is ER; an expensive source for treatment, and unfortunately the care is unlikely to provide lasting relief since most hospital ERs are not staffed with dentists, and their medical personnel are not trained to treat the underlying problems of patients with untreated dental issues. Additionally it is a heavy burden to our state.
A favorable alternative, as Dr. Lyle McClellan’s piece advocates, establishes licensure of dental therapists. Minnesota, Alaska and Maine already instituted this type of dental provider. These providers are highly trained and can expand care in communities with most need. Added benefits: the direct cost savings (on average, dental therapists cost 30 cents for every dollar they generate) for our state; also dentists can see more Medicaid patients at existing reimbursement rates. It is imperative that all Washingtonians have access to dental care when they need it, regardless of race, ethnicity, the frail and elderly, and those whose families are economically disadvantaged. As compassionate, mindful people we should be embracing and promoting dental therapists as one of the solutions.