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North Dakota Dental Hygienists Association
Legislators, supporters promote plan to increase dental access across North Dakota
BISMARCK -- At a press conference today, legislators and supporters addressed HB 1256, legislation that would help increase dental access across the state by allowing dentists 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 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.
“Too many of our residents 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,” says Dana Schmit, president of the North Dakota Dental Hygienist Association. Schmit is also the spokesperson for North Dakotans for Dental Access, a coalition dedicated to increasing dental access in North Dakota. “We need to make changes that will bring more, affordable options to the average resident of our state. More high-priced providers for routine care won’t make that care more affordable. For these reasons and more, we support House Bill 1256.”
In North Dakota:
- More than 1 in 4 third graders have untreated tooth decay;
- 65 percent of children enrolled in Medicaid did not see a dentist in 2015 (the state is third worst in the country at providing dental care to these children);
- 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.
HB 1256 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. A dental therapist is sometimes referred to as a mid-level provider that is similar to a physician assistant. The use of dental therapists on the oral health care team is not a new or unproven method; more than 50 countries, along with the states of Alaska, Minnesota and others allow dentists to hire a dental therapist, extending care into rural, low-income, and uninsured patients, including in schools and nursing homes.
“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, chair, Department of Public Health at North Dakota State University. “House Bill 1256 will help provide that access by giving dentists the freedom to hire dental therapists who can enable them to serve more patients within their practices. They can even be sent by their supervising dentist to schools, nursing homes, reservations and other rural areas to provide routine care to the most underserved populations in our state.”
“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 here in North Dakota.”
According to Chris Olson (R-West Fargo), one of HB 1256’s co-sponsors, existing laws are part of the reason behind the dentist shortage and lack of broader access to dental care; HB 1256 would help solve that problem by eliminating unnecessary barriers.
“It is now time to take the next step by allowing dental therapists to be hired in North Dakota, to help address our state’s dental access issue,” says Olson. “HB 1256 increases dental access, gives dentists the opportunity to expand their patient base and grow their business, and provides greater choice and affordability in healthcare.”
House Bill 1256 is being sponsored by eight North Dakota legislators (four senators and four representatives), from both sides of the state and both sides of the aisle. The concept and benefits of dental therapy across the country has found support from traditional conservative groups like Heartland Institute and traditional liberal groups like Families USA.
For more information about North Dakota’s dental access problem and HB 1256, 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
- 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 Women’s Network
- Northland Health Centers
- Third Street Clinic
- Americans for Prosperity
- Americans for Tax Reform