My Turn: Dental therapists are not the answer
I write in response to the Monitor’s March 7 editorial, “A good way to expand access to dental care.”
New Hampshire is a state that likes to do things “the New Hampshire way.” We listen to the advice of others, but ultimately we like to decide how to do things ourselves. We need our own comprehensive oral health plan – tailored to the needs that exist in our state – to make quality dental care accessible and affordable. That is why the state’s dental community continues to work in partnership with state legislators, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and other groups interested in oral health to develop measurable, actionable solutions.
We have made significant strides. In 2012, the Pew Center on the States gave New Hampshire an A grade for its efforts to improve access to dental sealants for low-income kids. The report highlighted that the majority of New Hampshire’s high-risk schools have programs providing sealants that help prevent tooth decay. In 2011, the state authorized Medicaid to reimburse physicians for preventive dental services for children age 0-3. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show that we only have 5 fewer dentists than deemed adequate.
However, challenges remain. According to the state Department of Health and Human Services, there are three areas in the state that have fewer dentists than deemed adequate. It’s a matter of adding two or three dentists, not 17 or 21.
But adding a new profession such as the dental therapist model proposed in Senate Bill 193 – which is untested, has no budget for support and no curriculum to implement it – is a big leap. Just last year, the state expanded the oral health profession on two levels, so it seems unnecessary to do so again.
The issue is how to help New Hampshire families today with proven solutions: more fluoridation, more public awareness, more oral health programs in schools and community heath centers, more funding for already existing programs, and more ways to get people to clinics.
Clinics across the state offering free or reduced care have plenty of openings – we need to focus on how to get kids and adults into those clinics today.
No one is more committed to improving the oral health of our state than New Hampshire dentists.
Our dentists have donated thousands of dollars in care to under-served populations, and continue to serve those in need through programs like Donated Dental Services, “Give Kids a Smile” and “Dentists with a Heart.” We want to continue to work together with those who want real solutions that meet the real needs that we see.
(Dr. Glenda C. Reynolds is president of the New Hampshire Dental Society.)