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Dental Therapist Experiment is Failing

Here is an update on a blog that I previous wrote regarding the creation of a midlevel dental provider in several states to help meet the unserved or underserved population. The goal was to improve access to dental care where there was apparently a deficiency by training a person to perform simple extractions, fillings and cleaning without the extensive training that a dentist or dental hygienist receives. One such state, Minnesota, is now realizing that their seven-year experiment is failing. The State’s government is now suggesting that Medicaid funding to this program  should be withheld in light of new statistics showing that children receiving Medicaid dentistry remains at a stagnant 41%; basically the same percentage that it was when the dental therapist program started. What this means is that by adding an additional 80 dental therapists, the same number of patients were seeing the dentist and it was not an access to care issue at all. The problem is a reimbursement issue. The rates of dental reimbursement for dental procedures is so low that dentists won’t even sign up for the Medicaid program as they will lose money by doing so. Minnesota is now considering increasing it rates in order to attract more dentists to participate and thereby solve their “access to care” issue. Even more disturbing is the fact that 90% of the Medicaid children in need of dentistry live within 15 minutes of a participating dentist that can help them! It is something worth watching when another state, Arizona, has the same pending legislation. The Pennsylvania Dental Association has always kept a close eye on this type of situation in our state and intervening when necessary. Would you really what someone with little to no training taking out one of your teeth or performing an intricate filling or crown!?                                                                                                                                                                                                -Dr. Dave

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