Dental Therapists Could Help Close Oral Health Gap in Rural Ohio
Wednesday, July 26, 2023
Dental therapists are licensed to provide cavity fillings and other basic dental care, and health care providers in Ohio say authorizing their practice in the state would help address a worsening shortage of dentists in rural areas.
According to the National Partnership for Dental Therapy, 13 states have passed legislation authorizing dental therapists to practice in at least some settings.
Janis Sunderhaus, CEO of Health Partners of Western Ohio, said her organization runs eight dental clinics across Northwest Ohio, and struggles constantly to hire enough dentists to meet demand.
"We're not producing enough dentists, dentists are retiring, and dentists don't really want to go to rural areas," Sunderhaus explained. "And so what mid-level providers would do would allow me to be able to recruit local people."
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, there is a shortage of nearly 12,000 dentists in the U.S. Insurance can be a complicating factor, with not many dentists participating in Medicaid, due in part to low reimbursement rates.
Sunderhaus argued providing comprehensive preventive health care without addressing dental health ignores widespread research connecting the condition of people's mouths to chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, depression and mental health.
"We can't put oral health on the sidebar and provide all this care to people but never take care of their teeth," Sunderhaus contended.
Dr. Frank Catalanotto, board member of the National Coalition of Dentists for Health Equity, said for children in particular, the ripple effects of not having access to quality dental care can be severe and far-reaching.
"When children have toothaches and they're in pain, there's lots of science that clearly documents that they don't learn as well as others," Catalanotto explained.
For adults, he added the results of poor oral health, such as gum disease, puts them at risk for other complications, including heart disease and diabetes.
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