BISMARCK -- At a press conference today, legislators and supporters unveiled legislation that would help increase dental access across the state. Currently, thousands of North Dakotans do not have access to affordable, routine dental care because of a shortage of dentists.
In 2014, 40 percent of North Dakota’s counties had either one or no dentist−nine counties had no dentists, and 12 counties had only one dentist. Under the current system, many North Dakotans have to travel to a neighboring county or farther to receive dental care.
Twenty-eight of North Dakota’s 53 counties have federally-recognized dental shortage areas. In North Dakota:
“It’s not uncommon to see patients at community health clinics who have never seen a dentist or had access to affordable, routine care,” said Rachelle Gustafson, president of the North Dakota Dental Hygienist Association. Gustafson is also the spokesperson for North Dakotans for Dental Access, a coalition dedicated to increasing dental access in North Dakota. “Even though the number of dentists has slowly increased over the past few years, there still aren’t enough dentists to meet the needs of our state’s growing population.”
- 70 percent of children enrolled in Medicaid did not see a dentist in 2013;
- Native American children had more than twice the need for treatment than their non-native peers;
- Rural third graders have significantly worse oral health than their urban peers; and
- One-third of all seniors have dental problems, more than any other group.
SB 2354 would authorize existing licensed dental hygienists to receive additional education and training to become Advanced Practice Dental Hygienists (APDH). APDHs would be able to provide routine preventive and restorative care under the supervision of a dentist. APDHs would improve access to affordable, routine dental care for North Dakota’s underserved populations: rural residents, Native Americans, seniors, and Medicaid and Medicare patients.
“Advanced Practice Dental Hygienists could bring care to where people are, including rural communities, nursing homes, schools, reservations and assisted living facilities,” said Sen. Dick Dever (R-Bismarck), the bill’s primary sponsor. “Certifying new Advanced Practice Dental Hygienists is a common sense North Dakota solution to increasing access to affordable, routine dental care for all North Dakotans.”
According to Rep. Blair Thoreson (R-Fargo), one of SB 2354’s co-sponsors, existing laws are part of the reason behind the dentist shortage and SB 2354 would help solve that problem. “Currently, dentists aren’t allowed to hire mid-level practitioners like Advanced Practice Dental Hygienists, which would undoubtedly help address our state’s dental access issue,” Thoreson said. “SB 2354 is a free-market solution that increases dental access while also giving dentists the opportunity to expand their patient base and grow their business.”
Other SB 2354 supporters who spoke at the press conference, include: Reps. Alan Fehr (R-Dickinson), Dr. Don Warne, director of the Masters of Public Health Program at NDSU, and Mike Tomasko, a member of AARP’s executive committee.
SB 2354 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Human Services Committee (Sen. Judy Lee, Chairman) on Tuesday, Feb. 10, at 10 a.m. in the Brynhild Haugland Room at the North Dakota State Capitol.
For more information about North Dakota’s dental access problem and SB 2354, visit www.nddentalaccess.com.