By Sheri Solseng from Chaska, MN
On Sept. 28 and 29, dental providers volunteered their time in Bismarck and provided free dental care to patients across North Dakota who couldn't otherwise access care and/or afford it. This charity is a commendable service - but it is not the best way to provide a long-term system of oral health care.
Approximately 900 people waited in line - some of them overnight - in hopes of being seen by a dentist or hygienist. According to local news reports, a few people were turned away. And among those who were seen, many had teeth extracted that could have been saved by a simple filling if they had been seen earlier. Most discouraging. The same people, and probably many others, will have to wait for another charity event to be seen by a dental professional again because they still won't have access to oral health care.
I'm proud to be a native of the Peace Garden State and I wish I could provide care to dental patients in North Dakota in the same way as I do in Minnesota (where I currently reside). I'm an advanced dental therapist (ADT) - kind of like a nurse practitioner, but on the dental team. I can not only provide preventive care, like cleanings, but I can also provide routine restorative care like filling cavities. I can provide dental care to vulnerable people - in different settings - I can go to the patients in a community health clinic, a senior living center, a veterans nursing home, a school-based clinic or work in a private dental practice.
As an advanced dental therapist, I can practice in Minnesota, but not in North Dakota because the state practice act doesn't include licensing of dental therapists. Adding another clinician to the dental team extends the reach of helping folks who need it the most! It's working in Minnesota. I am living this every day and all I want to do is help. I believe the governor and Legislature should change the law to allow dental therapists to serve all of the people of the great state of North Dakota.
(Solseng is also a registered dental hygienist.)