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Former U.S. Health Secretary testifies to ND legislators on the need for improvements to dental health care in state

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 on April 13 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 visit to Bismarck, ND_041816.jpg

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.”
To read the full transcript of Dr. Sullivan’s testimony, click here.
The North Dakota Community Action Partnership (NDACP) presented information from their most recent needs assessment survey at the same interim legislative committee meeting. Testimony was provided by Andrea Olson, NDACP executive director. In her testimony she stated that “dental service was the second highest need that was identified statewide when participants were asked to identify miscellaneous needs.” She continued her testimony by saying, “Respondents wrote, dental care is not readily available and many people come (to) the clinic or ER for dental problems because they can't afford a dentist. There are multiple barriers for people needing dental care … (they) are in an urgent, painful situation or they need major dental work now and there are long waits for dental care.”
Olson finished her testimony by saying, “North Dakota Community Action Partnership would be thrilled to see hygienists be able to expand their scope of practice. We feel it would provide a great benefit to people in need and would prevent them from seeking expensive emergency care via the emergency room and other urgent care facilities.”
Former US HHS Secretary pushes new models of dental care
By Dave Thompson – Prairie Public
A former secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services says there is a need to change North Dakota’s dental health workforce. Read more.

Former health secretary advocates for dental therapists
By Blair Emerson – Bismarck Tribune
Dr. Louis Sullivan, former secretary of health and human services who served under President George H.W. Bush, spoke with legislators in Bismarck Wednesday about licensing dental therapists in North Dakota. Read more.

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