Thursday, May 18, 2017

NEWS | Improving dental care: Ohio could follow Minnesota's lead

By Mary Kuhlman
Ohio News Connection

Supporters of a bill currently at the statehouse say Ohio could improve oral health care by following Minnesota's lead.

In 2009, lawmakers in Minnesota approved the licensure of dental therapists to address its growing oral healthcare crisis. According to Sara Wovcha, executive director at Children's Dental Services in Minnesota, dental therapists are highly trained and perform preventive care and routine services such as exams and fillings at a lower cost.

"We are ending up with a qualified provider with a reduced scope of practice but a very important scope of practice that's more cost-effective for us to use," Wovcha said.

Dental therapists are now working in rural communities where there aren't enough dentists, she said, allowing dentists to see more patients and focus on more complex cases.

Ohio state Senate Bill 330 would allow dental therapists to be licensed in the Buckeye State, which supporters argue would help the 1.5 million Ohioans living in areas with limited access to dental care.

The Ohio Dental Association opposes the legislation, claiming it offers inadequate training for a broad range of practices. Former dental director for the Cincinnati Health Department Dr. Larry Hill said he disagrees. He believes there is a lack of understanding about dental therapists within organized dentistry.

"There's a lot of misinformation that has been disseminated. And it's crazy to neglect or turn away from cost-effective solutions that have been proven to work in other places," Hill said. "Ohio needs those solutions."

Oral health care is an essential part of overall health throughout a person's life, Hill said, and it's not just about pretty teeth and white smiles.

"The aesthetics of course are extremely important. But in addition to this, there is a basic, fundamental important health issue with the oral cavity," he said. "Poor oral health has a great negative impact on the elderly as well as children."

There are 84 areas within the state identified as having a dental health professional shortage: regions where there are not enough dentists to meet the needs of the community.

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