Dental Therapists: A Good or Bad Idea?
Lawmakers in Wisconsin will review a bill that would give way to a new class of dentists called dental therapists to help reduce the dental care shortage in rural and underprivileged communities throughout the state.
These dental therapists will be licensed to perform routine, preventative and restorative dental procedures such as oral examinations, x-rays and sealants for children. They could also perform tooth extraction of primary teeth. These dental professionals will provide low-cost, affordable dental care to underserved areas.
Dental therapists are utilized in neighboring Minnesota who have reported seeing more than 6,300 new patients in the two-year span between 2011 and 2013 according to the Wisconsin Watchdog.
Besides offering more affordable dental care, dental therapists can free up precious time of practicing dentists by not needing them to be physically present to oversee the dental procedures. They would also attract highly qualified dental professionals to rural areas to serve thousands of residents who currently don’t have immediate access to a dentist. With dentist therapists in rural and underserved areas and communities, residents can access affordable, high-quality, comprehensive preventative and restorative dental care in a timely manner with shorter wait times and more availability for scheduling.
More than 30 organizations support this measure to expand access to dental care throughout Wisconsin. This is, however, one of a couple possible solutions that have been proposed to address Wisconsin’s dental care problem. Other proposals have included employing pediatric dentists to provide low-cost or free sealants to children in schools, public subsidies and partnering with dental schools to provide residents with low-cost dental care by dental students who need the experience.
One of the noticeable causes of Wisconsin’s lack of dental care access is the low amount of reimbursement dentists get for performing preventative and restorative dental procedures that are covered by Medicaid. Because of the low Medicaid reimbursement rate, many Wisconsin dentists can’t afford to treat these patients. Some think that new dental therapists will likely face this same problem as they serve patients.
There are some opponents to the idea of dental therapists who raise up some points surrounding the effectiveness they will have in fully addressing the dental needs of many Wisconsin residents without access to dental care.
The first objection was the level of care that would be provided. Low-cost, community dental clinics, like medical clinics have gotten a reputation of offering sub-standard services in exchange for the affordable costs. Supporters assure that patients will receive the same quality dental care as regular dental professionals offer.
Licensing dental therapists will also involve costs that some think will trickle down to patients and taxpayers. Public, government and education subsidies as well as private-sector investments are proposed to bear the brunt of the costs and expenses and the foreseen access to dental services are expected to make up the costs. Supporters say the dental therapist program will incur no fiscal impact on the state.
The lack of access to affordable dental care by thousands of Wisconsin residents who live in rural and underserved communities is a problem that needs to be addressed. Oral health is just as important as physical health. Access to regular oral health care is essential in maintaining one’s smile and the health of one’s teeth and gums.
At Madison Smiles Solutions, we believe the oral health of each patient is important. We have been serving the Madison, Wisconsin area for many years and provide comprehensive dental care at affordable prices. If your family is looking for a quality dentist in Wisconsin, contact us to schedule an appointment.