The American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) commends Senator Bernard Sanders, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, and Congressman Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, for their leadership on oral health issues by introducing the Comprehensive Dental Reform Act of 2012. This legislation seeks to overcome the many barriers that over 140 million Americans face in accessing oral health care services, ensuring that the public has dental coverage and access to safe and high-quality oral health care.
The United States is in the midst of an oral health care crisis. Nearly 48 million people live in federally-designated shortage areas that lack an adequate number of dentists to serve the public. Less than 20 percent of Medicaid eligible children received dental treatment services in 2010. In addition, nationwide, the number of dental-related visits to the ER jumped by 16 percent during a three-year period between 2006 and 2009 to over 830,000 visits for preventable dental conditions.
By extending comprehensive dental coverage, vulnerable populations such as children from low income families, the elderly and members of racial and ethnic minority groups are able to receive treatment of oral disease while it is still manageable. This diminishes the need for more costly restorative services and emergency care.
In addition to expanding dental coverage, the Comprehensive Dental Reform Act seeks to raise the public’s awareness of the importance of oral health and expand the dental workforce to accommodate the millions more Americans who will become eligible for dental coverage in 2014. More than 50 countries have used midlevel dental providers for decades to help deliver much needed oral health care to patients.
Minnesota recognized the need for midlevel dental providers and their ability to increase access to care when legislation was passed establishing two new members of the dental team, the dental therapist (DT) and the advanced dental therapist (ADT). The DT functions much like the physician’s assistant, requiring the on-site supervision of a dentist for most services provided. The ADT, however, is modeled after the nurse practitioner, and collaborates with a dentist in the treatment of patients but does not require on-site supervision. This collaborative relationship allows the ADT to provide services in communities where no dentist is regularly available, creating a pipeline to care for those disenfranchised from the current delivery system.
During this year’s February 29th Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging hearing on Dental Access, Christy Fogarty, RDH, MSOHP, testified about her experience practicing as a dental hygienist and an ADT, and the impact she has made in increasing access to care for vulnerable populations. Her patients include children under the age of 21 and pregnant women in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota who currently have limited or no access to oral care.
“Christy’s testimony spoke to the advantage of being educated first as a dental hygienist and then as an ADT allowed her to provide important preventive care combined with restorative services within the ADT scope of practice. This combination greatly benefits patients as they receive comprehensive care,” said ADHA President Pam Quinones, RDH, BS. “Our goal is to improve access to dental care throughout the country and to ensure that the public is receiving the best care possible.”