At a time when lawmakers are calling for smart new ways of doing business in the wake of the recession, Rep. Eileen Cody, chair of the state House Health Care and Wellness Committee, rolled up her sleeves and did just that.
The Children’s Alliance joined our partners in working with Rep. Cody to shape a bill that would meet the needs of Washington’s underserved.
House Bill 1310, adding a dental therapist to the dental team, would take care to underserved areas, “making care affordable and accessible to patients”, says Dr. Paul Mullasseril, DDS, in recent testimony for the bill.
Care to people like Catherine from Seattle, who cannot afford to remove the wisdom teeth that are growing in sideways and does not have dental coverage. “It is really painful,” she says. “I know that getting them removed is urgent. The pain reminds me every day.”
Or to Anne, a senior woman with disabilities living in Olympia, who could not find a dental care provider and, when she finally did, could not afford care not covered by Medicaid. “Paying for dental care out of pocket is unfathomable on my fixed income,” she says.
HB1310 would make life better for our underserved communities. Chairman Brian Cladoosby of the Swinomish Tribe testified that 57 percent of the procedures in his local clinic could be done by a dental therapist.
Dr. Ray Dailey, Dental Chief for Swinomish/Upper Skagit Dental Clinic, agreed dental therapists would free him to focus on more advance procedures, expanding services for the 3,667 patients under his care. Dailey treats more than twice the number of patients as the average dentist.
Dental-related pain is the number one reason that uninsured adults seek care in our state’s emergency rooms. Treating oral health problems is far more difficult and costly in emergency rooms — and this costs us all.
In addition, low-income children, African American, Latino and American Indian children are at higher risk of suffering from dental disease and less likely than their peers to receive care.
Legislation is being proposed in several states across the country as the national grapples with the impending shortage of dental care providers. A Washington study indicates half of dentists will be eligible to retire in the next 11 years. This comes at the same time the need for providers is on the rise.
Dental therapists can expand access to quality, affordable dental care and prevention to those in most need. Endorsers of the bill include the American Indian Health Commission of Washington, Washington CAN!, Washington State Dental Hygienist Association, Senior Lobby, ElderCare Alliance, Lutheran Public Policy Office, Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, Solid Ground, Statewide Poverty Action Network, Washington Community Action Partnerships, and the Washington Adult Day Services Association.
The only opponent of the bill, the Washington State Dental Association, acknowledges that a high number of dentists will be retiring but does not agree that there is an access issue.
Bills promoting system changes often take many years. While the bill has died this year, we applaud Rep. Cody for her courage in proposing the change everyone is calling for. We will be work hard in coming months to build support for this legislation, and Rep. Cody assures us will see the bill again next year.
For more information, visit our oral health page.