Better Access to Dental Care
By Siobhan Ring
PSARA has joined with the Washington Dental Access Campaign to win passage of the Dental Access Bill. We join with tribes, health care organizations, community-based groups, senior groups, and individuals standing up to make sure all Washingtonians can get the care we all need to stay healthy.
Without dental care, many adults and children live in pain, miss school or work, and in extreme cases, face life-threatening emergencies.
Three weeks ago nearly 2,000 people waited all night for a chance at free dental care at the Seattle/King County clinic with Remote Area Medical.
One-third of seniors in Washington have untreated tooth decay. That doesn’t just cause a toothache. Oral health problems can lead to dangerous and costly health issues. The mouth is part of our body, and when our mouth is sick our body gets sick too. Just two years ago Steve McNall, a son, uncle, and worker in Lacey, Washington, died from an abscessed tooth.
All of this suffering could be prevented if we improved access to preventive dental care. In Alaska and Minnesota more people are getting the care they need to stay healthy thanks to new dental therapists. As part of the dental health care team, these providers are efficiently and cost-effectively improving access to care.
Dental therapists are supervised by a dentist through a practice plan contract that can include off-site supervision. That means they can bring care to where people need it most; including satellite clinics in rural communities, senior centers, and care facilities.
In Alaska and Minnesota, adding dental therapists resulted in more people having access to culturally-connected providers. Patients travel less and have shorter wait times for care. Community clinics and private practices have a stronger bottom line and can see more uninsured and Medicaid-insured patients.
Every study of the providers has demonstrated that they provide care at an equal or higher level of quality as that of a dentist. It’s a solution that works.
So with momentum growing and overwhelming evidence that dental therapy improves access to care and builds stronger communities, why hasn’t this legislation been passed? There’s one powerful self-interest standing in the way: organized dentistry. The Washington State Dental Association and the American Dental Association are pouring money and misinformation into a campaign to block states like ours from updating our laws and improving access to care.
The American Dental Association even lobbied for and won a clause in the
Affordable Care Act to prevent sovereign American Indian tribes from bringing this tribal-born solution to their own communities.
Change is needed and change will come, but it will take all of us raising our voices to overcome the narrow but well-resourced interests that are trying to block progress.
Today, more than 4,300 Washingtonians have signed a petition to Washington State Governor Jay Inslee and the Legislature urging them to make it easier for people to get affordable, basic dental care. Our goal is 5,000 signatures and PSARA members can help!
Visit www.wadentalaccess.com to sign the petition or sign the petition at our general membership meeting. You can also join a community teleconference call with the legislative sponsors of the Dental Access Bill on Wednesday, December 17, from 2p.m. to 3p.m. Sign up at www. wadentalaccess.com.
Siobhan Ring is the Mobilization Director at the Children’s Alliance and a PSARA member.
To find out more about the campaign or share your story, contact Marcos Zuñiga, Oral Health Access Project Manager, at Children’s Alliance at 206.324.0340 x28 or Marcos.Zuniga@childrensalliance.org.