New dental program could help rural Kansas
The Kansas City Star
A toothache in Kansas can be more than a pain.
The state has a severe shortage of primary care dentists, especially in rural areas. Of the state’s 105 counties, 93 are underserved and 15 have no dentists at all.
The problem is most severe for low-income residents, as only about a quarter of the state’s dentists accept Medicaid coverage for children. Those who do often hear stories of patients forced to travel hours for a simple procedure.
Now a coalition of health and consumer advocates along with safety net clinics wants the Kansas Legislature to create a new category of dental professional to help fill the gap. It’s an excellent idea.
Lawmakers should pass legislation enabling “registered dental practitioners” to be trained and licensed for some routine procedures that currently must be done by dentists. The practitioners would train with dentists and work under their supervision, although not necessarily at the same location.
At a recent legislative hearing, Edward H. Hammond, president of Fort Hays State University, said his school was preparing a degree program to train and certify registered dental practitioners. The university in western Kansas is an excellent choice to start such a program, because its graduates are more likely to remain in underserved areas.
The Kansas Dental Association opposes the idea, saying bills introduced in the legislature give technicians too much responsibility to perform procedures that, if done incorrectly, cannot be fixed.
“We think it’s too broad,” said Kevin Robertson, the association’s executive director. However, he acknowledged that no research backs up the association’s contention that dental practitioners could compromise patient safety.
Champions of the idea, though, say a number of studies show registered dental practitioners as a group provide safe and effective care, and in some cases have contributed to markedly better dental health in communities.
Dental practitioners have served for years in a number of other nations. They are just beginning to be licensed in the United States.
Kansas has a chance to get out in front of a healthy trend. Lawmakers should get to work on a sound bill that enables well-trained clinicians to serve the basic dental needs of Kansas citizens.