Letter: How to better use Michigan’s dental workforce
As a practicing dentist and the president of the Michigan Dental Association, I am committed to the public’s oral health. And I feel it is my duty to respond to the recent Detroit News editorial, “Open door for dental therapists in Michigan” (July 25).
Right now there are enough dentists in Michigan to provide dental care to every Michiganian. In addition to dentists, Michigan licenses two other dental professionals – registered dental assistants and registered dental hygienists – who also play critical roles in providing access to quality dental care in Michigan.
These points are among a number of factors that the editorial failed to address. Michigan doesn’t need an unproven dental provider called a “dental therapist.” What our state does need is to prioritize oral health care and use its current workforce more effectively.
The dental therapist experiment proposed in Senate Bill 541 is unproven. Minnesota, the only state where dental therapists are currently practicing statewide on the general population, was an early adopter of this model. After almost 10 years since the passage of its legislation, only 86 dental therapists are licensed, and the majority of them are practicing in areas currently served by dentists, while rural areas remain underserved. In addition, Minnesota’s children on Medicaid are still struggling to find dental care, so much so that in 2017 the federal government issued a warning to the state.
All Michigan residents deserve equal access to dental care, which is why the Michigan Dental Association (MDA) has proposed multiple solutions. These solutions include expanding the scope of practice of registered dental assistants and allowing registered dental hygienists more freedom to practice in underserved areas. By doing this, Michigan can better utilize its current workforce and increase access to care throughout the state. Over the past three years, the MDA has worked with state policymakers on accomplishing these initiatives.
Michigan has the dental workforce necessary to provide adequate access to dental care to everyone, and there’s proof that this workforce is willing to provide the care. The Healthy Kids Dental program, Michigan’s dental Medicaid program for children, is nationally renowned due to its high participation rate among dentists and high utilization rate among Medicaid children.
This program is successful because it reimburses at an adequate level. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the traditional adult Medicaid program. The adult program reimburses dental providers about 20 percent of the cost of treatment, and no business, regardless of the provider type, can survive on a nearly 80 percent net loss.
The Michigan Dental Association opposes Senate Bill 541 because Michigan’s underserved population deserves equal access to dental care and proven solutions.
Dr. Debra Peters, president
Michigan Dental Association