January 21, 2019
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North Dakota Dental Hygienists’ Association
Legislators, supporters promote HB 1426, to increase dental access across North Dakota
BISMARCK -- At a press conference today, legislators and supporters addressed HB 1426, legislation that would help increase dental access across the state by allowing dentists in safety-net provider settings to expand the oral health team through hiring dental therapists. Thousands of North Dakotans do not receive regular, routine dental care because there is not enough access to providers to serve the elderly, children, Medicare/Medicaid patients, Native Americans, or those living in poverty.
“I am a dentist in Bismarck, working for a non-profit community care center, and I support dental therapy in North Dakota,” said Dr. Joanne Luger, Bridging the Dental Gap. “It’s about time the dental community realize that any previous attempts at improving access to those who need it the most simply aren’t working – we need to be doing more – and we can do more by allowing willing dentists to hire dental therapists.”
House Bill 1426 adds the option of hiring a dental therapist to certain healthcare settings within North Dakota. Those settings include Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), non-profit dental practices, practices that serve under the authorization of Indian Health Services, or similar organizations. This bill targets the efforts of dental therapists into those areas that serve populations that most need quality, routine dental care. Dental therapists are similar to physician assistants, in that they are midlevel providers who are trained, side-by-side with dentists, to offer routine and commonly needed preventive and restorative services, such as filling cavities.
“Too many North Dakotans suffer from dental diseases that are preventable with routine care. The people we hear from cite the high cost of care or not being able to find a dentist that will accept their insurance,” said Emily Mallory, president of the North Dakota Dental Hygienists’ Association. Mallory is also a spokesperson for North Dakotans for Dental Access, a coalition of 24 organizations dedicated to increasing dental access in North Dakota. “We need to make changes that will bring more, affordable options to those residents of our state who need this care most. For these reasons and more, we support House Bill 1426.”
In North Dakota:
HB 1426 would allow a licensed dental therapist to work under a dentist’s supervision, performing a pre-determined, limited scope of tasks that would include routine, preventive restorative care. The use of dental therapists on the oral health care team is not a new or unproven method; eight states in some capacity, including Arizona, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont and tribal communities in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington and more than 50 countries allow dentists to hire a dental therapist. This extends care into rural, low-income, and uninsured patients, including in schools and nursing homes.
- More than 1 in 4 third graders have untreated tooth decay;
- 68 percent of children enrolled in Medicaid did not see a dentist in 2017 (the worst in the country);
- Half of Native American third graders have had untreated tooth decay, and;
- One-third of all seniors have dental problems, more than any other group.
“We can do more for the thousands in our state who are suffering from a lack of access to proper care,” says Sen. Judy Lee (R-West Fargo), one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “This is a common sense, innovative solution to a real problem. It works in other parts of the country, and it’s time to make it available to dental providers, like Dr. Luger, or the Family HealthCare Center in Fargo/Moorhead which serves thousands of people every year.”
“It is time to take this important step by allowing dental therapists to be hired in North Dakota, to help address our state’s dental access issue,” says Rep. Bill Devlin (R-Finley).
“By improving access to affordable, routine dental care, we can improve both oral and general health across our state, including on our state’s reservations and in rural communities,” says Dr. Donald Warne, director of the Indians into Medicine program at the University of North Dakota.
Thousands of North Dakotans do not receive regular, routine dental care because there is not enough access to providers in rural areas or, for many people with low-incomes, in urban centers. Nearly half of all North Dakota counties have only one dentist or none at all.
At today’s press conference, Sheri Solseng Trif, an advanced dental therapist working in Minnesota, spoke to her experience in the profession and her connection to North Dakota.
“I am a native of North Dakota – from Larimore - and would love to have the opportunity to practice my profession and make a difference in rural communities that need more access to quality dental care,” said Solseng Trif. “Adding another clinician to the dental team extends the reach of helping folks who need it the most! It’s working in Minnesota and I am proof.”
House Bill 1426 is being sponsored by eleven North Dakota legislators (five senators and six representatives), from both sides of the state and both sides of the aisle.
For more information about North Dakota’s dental access problem and how HB 1426 can help solve part of the issue, visit www.nddentalaccess.com.
About North Dakotans for Dental Access
North Dakotans for Dental Access was formed out of concern for the growing need for access to affordable, routine dental care in our state and the strong belief and commitment that dental therapists can and will play a significant role in increasing access going forward. North Dakotans for Dental Access includes the following members:
- AARP North Dakota
- Alliance for Health Care Access (Grand Forks)
- Community Action Partnership of ND
- Family Voices of ND
- Fargo-Moorhead Coalition for Homeless Persons
- North Dakota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
- North Dakota Dental Hygienists' Association
- North Dakota Nurses Association
- North Dakota Nurse Practitioners Association
- North Dakota Protection and Advocacy Project
- North Dakota Public Health Association
- North Dakota Rural Health Association
- North Dakota State Association of City and County Health Officers
- North Dakota Women’s Network
- Northland Health Centers
- Third Street Clinic (Grand Forks)
- United Tribes of North Dakota
- Spirit Lake Tribe
- Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
- Three Affiliated Tribes of Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation
- Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians
- Americans for Prosperity
- Americans for Tax Reform
- The Pew Charitable Trusts