NM Remains Slow in Closing Dental Care Equity Gap
Thursday, July 27, 2023
Dental care is vital to overall health, but finding and affording services is a challenge in many states - including New Mexico.
Dental therapists, trained in local colleges and working under the supervision of dentists, have been shown to fill the gap in oral health needs.
That led New Mexico lawmakers to pass legislation in 2019, establishing the profession of Dental Therapist.
But Barbara Webber - executive director of Health Access New Mexico - said implementation has been slow, and too many rural, tribal and underserved urban New Mexicans go without care.
"We have parents talking about, 'I will get oral health care for my children, but I can't afford it for myself,'" said Webber. "So, they'll have all kinds of issues in their mouth that lead to infection and lead to lots of problems."
The results of poor oral health in adults puts them at risk for other complications, including heart disease.
Health Access New Mexico says hundreds of thousands of state residents live in areas without enough dentists and more than a quarter of elementary school children have untreated tooth decay.
Frank Catalanotto, a board member with the National Coalition of Dentists for Health Equity, said geography is a big factor in whether folks can access services.
"We've got lots of people in rural areas of this country," said Catalanotto, "where there are not enough dentists."
Webber said nearly half the population of New Mexico is on Medicaid, which many dentists don't accept. So even when folks know they have gum disease, some don't seek treatment.
"We did a poll two years ago," said Webber. "Forty-four percent of people reported that in the last year they did not fill a prescription or they were skipping medications due to cost, and that's twice the national average."
Southeastern and southwestern states have higher levels of periodontal disease, including New Mexico.
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