Have a Heart for Kids Day rally, 2015

The evidence mounts: a workforce solution can get more kids dental care

Adam 07/18/13


We congratulate our state’s legislators for making progress on oral health in the 2013-15 biennial budget. State lawmakers passed a budget that restored full dental benefits to adults on Medicaid.

Reversing that harmful cut means dental coverage for 700,000 adults. That’s a good step forward. But our oral health crisis is far too big to solve in one step.

That’s why we’re taking action, this summer, to call attention to a proven solution to get more kids and families the dental care they need.

On Friday, June 14, Children’s Alliance joined consumers from around our state with the Washington Dental Access Campaign to tell the leadership of the Washington State Dental Association (WSDA) to stop standing in the way of this workforce-based solution.

Consumers in need of oral health care interrupted an elite noon luncheon during the Pacific Northwest Dental Conference with a surprise delivery of a box full of peer-reviewed evidence that supports the effectiveness and quality of midlevel dental providers. “Too many Washingtonians can’t get the dental health care we need,” said Aaron Robert Kathman of Spokane, who has struggled to find affordable dental care.  Fellow consumers left the studies with the WSDA’s leaders for their consideration.

As Aaron and other advocates with the Washington Dental Access Campaign continue this work, two more recent reports add to the overwhelming evidence in support of the safety and success of midlevel dental providers.

The Pew Charitable Trusts released a report stating midlevel dental providers are a workforce solution that can improve the ability of safety-net systems to reach low-income communities and save states money on emergency room care. The report highlights two reasons why mid-level providers are needed:

  • An uneven distribution of dentists means access to care is limited for people living in rural areas, regardless of income or insurance coverage.
  • The relatively small number of dentists who participate in Medicaid means that many low-income people are not receiving dental care.

The report rings true for Washington. Statewide, 3 in 4 dentists won’t accept Medicaid.  For most of those dentists who do take Medicaid patients, it adds up to only a small portion of their clientele. And all but four of Washington’s 39 counties suffer chronic shortages of oral health professionals.

A second report looks at the providers in Alaska and Minnesota for the first time. It shows mid-level providers in both states have expanded access to routine and preventive oral health care for low-income adults, children, and people living in tribal communities. The report found that:

  • 85 percent of the care that dental therapists provide is routine and preventive.
  • 78 percent of dental therapists’ patients in Minnesota were publicly insured with coverage that private-practice dentists seldom accept;]
  • Dental therapists are cost-effective to employ – costing their employers less than 30 cents for every dollar of revenue they generate.

That is an innovation that makes a difference. This community-driven, proven solution can help create a healthier, stronger future for Washington children and families.

The status quo is not enough. It is time to look at the evidence and develop long-term solutions to Washington’s oral health crisis.