BISMARCK -- An interim committee of North Dakota legislators has more information to chew on when it comes to oral health care and the need for change in our state’s dental health workforce thanks to testimony today from Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George H. W. Bush. During Dr. Sullivan’s testimony in front of the interim Health and Human Services Committee he stressed the preventable nature of oral health concerns and the need to allow for better access to dental care, especially in rural states like North Dakota.
“In North Dakota, the numbers closely reflect national trends,” said Dr. Sullivan. “Only 67 percent of North Dakotan adults, 18 and older reported having been to the dentist in the past year. The reality is, if we are to meet the oral health needs of our citizens, we must consider new models of care.”
Dr. Sullivan laid out changes that can improve dental health care in the state, citing a 2014 report by the University of North Dakota Center for Rural Health. The three primary oral health needs for the state are: 1) enhance oral health literacy and prevention programs across the state, 2) improve dental coverage, and 3) increase access to dental care through adequate dental workforce distribution.
“One proven model is that of the Dental Therapist (Advanced Practice Dental Hygienist),” said Dr. Sullivan. “Similar to nurse practitioners and physician assistants in medicine, dental therapists are professionally trained, midlevel dental providers who can help people get the dental care they need. They support the work of a dentist and can work in different locations, often using telehealth technology, while under a dentist’s supervision. Dental Therapists are part of a care delivery team.”
Legislation was introduced at the 2015 North Dakota Legislative Session (SB 2354) that would have allowed dentists to hire midlevel providers to address the state’s need for increased oral health access. This bill was supported by North Dakotans for Dental Access, North Dakota Dental Hygienists Association, North Dakota Public Health Association, North Dakota Nurse Practitioners Association, Americans for Prosperity and AARP. North Dakotans for Dental Access supports the on-going efforts to provide better access to routine, affordable dental care and preventive services, and to find an oral care model that will raise the overall health of our state’s residents.
As part of today’s testimony, Dr. Sullivan also pointed out that North Dakota has one of the highest Medicaid reimbursement rates nationwide, 62 percent in 2013. Nonetheless, only 8 percent of the dental practices billing Medicaid in 2013 provided care to a majority (52 percent) of the Medicaid enrollees accessing dental services.
Louis W. Sullivan, M.D., is Chairman of The Sullivan Alliance to Transform the Health Professions; former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (1989-93); and President Emeritus of the Morehouse School of Medicine.
For more information about North Dakotans for Dental Access, visit www.nddentalaccess.com.