Millions of Arizonans struggle to access the dental care they need to lead healthy, productive lives. People go without care because they cannot afford it, cannot find a dentist who will take their insurance, cannot get to the dentist during weekday working hours, or live in an area where there is a shortage of dentists.
These gaps in care are costly for the state. When people cannot get dental care, they sometimes visit emergency rooms for relief of their symptoms—an expensive and inefficient use of limited health care dollars. A lack of access to dental care especially affects low-income families, children covered by Medicaid, the elderly, people with disabilities, American Indians, and those living in rural communities.
Arizona urgently needs to increase access to quality dental care that does not create additional government programs and cost. A proposal submitted to the Legislature would initiate legislation to authorize use of midlevel dental providers, known as dental therapists, to expand opportunities to efficiently and effectively serve patients and increase dentists’ revenue.
Dental therapists are similar to physician assistants or nurse practitioners on medical teams. They receive rigorous training in routine restorative procedures, such as filling cavities and performing extractions. When dental therapists provide regular routine dental care, dentists are able to focus on more complicated procedures.
Dental therapists often work away from the traditional dental office in locations such as rural clinics, nursing homes, and schools while keeping in touch with their supervising dentists through telehealth technology. By working in communities outside normal business hours, dental therapists can extend access to people who face barriers getting to a traditional dental office.
It’s time to modernize the delivery of dental care in Arizona. The health care market can benefit from additional providers, and Arizonans need access to safe, affordable dental care.