Magazine article State Legislatures

Filling the Need for Dentists

Magazine article State Legislatures

Filling the Need for Dentists

Article excerpt

Maine recently joined Alaska and Minnesota as the first states to license or certify midlevel dental providers, similar to physician assistants and nurse practitioners in the medical field.

Maine's measure establishes a licensed profession--dental hygiene therapist--to perform preventive care, routine fillings, simple tooth extractions, administration of local anesthesia, crown placements and other services under a dentist's supervision.

Areas in 15 of Maine's 16 counties have dentist shortages, and more than 62 percent of low-income children went without dental care in 2011, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts report.

All Medicaid-enrolled children have dental coverage, but in 2011, 52 percent of them did not receive any dental care, including preventive visits. A shortage of dentists, too few dentists willing to treat Medicaid patients, parents' lack of transportation and flexible work schedules, and a lack of knowledge about the importance of oral health all contribute to the lack of dental care for many Medicaid-enrolled children.

Lack of dental care can lead to serious--and costly--complications. A problem as minor as a cavity left untreated often means a costly trip to the emergency room. In Florida, for example, dental-related emergency room visit charges exceeded $88 million in 2010, according to Pew. States bear a portion of the expenses through Medicaid and other public programs.

Mid-level providers may help reduce these barriers to care. …

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