Too many communities in Florida don’t have the dental health they deserve. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 5.5 million Floridians live in 232 communities designated as “Dental Care Health Professional Shortage Areas” (HPSAs). To remove this designation, Health and Human Services estimates an additional 1,200 dental practitioners would be needed across the state.
The answer may seem easy – more dentists are needed, right? It’s not as simple as training and placing more dentists in communities as cost is still an issue to many Floridians, especially the 4 million Floridians enrolled in Medicaid. Only 18% of Florida’s dentists participate in Medicaid, and the reimbursement rate has only increased by 0.7% between 2003 and 2013. This means that both cost and access to oral care are issues for Floridians. More dentists does not mean more Medicaid providers, especially with four years of required dental training that can cost up to $400,000.
Lawmakers are already in action working on a solution to address these shortages by expanding a key component of the oral health workforce – dental therapists.
What is a dental therapist?
A dental therapist is an oral health professional who works under the supervision of a licensed dentist. In addition to dental hygienists who primarily work to clean teeth and provide exams and other preventive dental care, dental therapists are educated to provide evaluative, preventive, restorative, and minor surgical dental care within their scope of practice.
Dental therapists can help satisfy Florida’s oral health care needs. They already provide a variety of routine treatments under the supervision of dentists in private practices, as well as community settings such as schools and nursing homes. With shorter training time and lower cost to become a dental therapists, dental therapists make it easier and less costly for dentists to expand their practices and capacity to provide routine and preventive care – care that helps reduce future health-related costs. Additionally, dental therapists provide care at the lower reimbursement rates offered by Medicaid, which could mean more dentists may be willing to expand their services for Medicaid enrollees.
Florida’s Legislative Action
State lawmakers want to expand access to dental care by allowing dental therapists, hygienists, and assistants to offer some of the most basic oral care treatments, including the primary tooth extractions, dental trauma management, desensitizing medications, and many others. These therapists would offer families who lack reliable access to dentists the opportunity to receive affordable oral care, breaking down barriers oral care access and providing better health outcomes for Floridians.
This is Florida’s chance to be a leader in access to oral care – send a comment to Florida’s state legislators to show your support today.