Dental Therapists Would Relieve Michigan’s Dentist Shortage

The Detroit News covers new Mackinac Center report

Thousands of Michiganders who went to the ER in 2011 after preventable dental issues escalated could receive better care if the state were to allow new mid-level providers to perform routine dental care to underserved populations.

That’s according to a new report published jointly by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Of Michigan’s 83 counties, 76 of them have at least one area where there are not enough dentists. Michael Van Beek, director of research at the Center and co-author of the study, explained the importance of addressing the shortage.

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Preventive dental care is an important tool to fight against rising medical costs. The reality though is that not enough people in Michigan get this care and this leads to higher health care costs in the future.

In addition to driving up health care costs, the lack of accessible and affordable dental care disproportionally affects women, children, seniors and those with lower incomes. That’s why a wide array of groups supports the concept of dental therapists. Evidence of this, Van Beek co-authored an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press with Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Our organizations typically don’t see eye-to-eye on solutions for public policy issues, but on this one we agree. Dental therapists would be a smart way to help more people in Michigan get access to dental care and improve their health. SB 1013 does that, and we encourage lawmakers to support it in the final session days of 2016.

Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Jackson, introduced a bill to create dental therapists. Minnesota, Alaska, Maine and Vermont allow midlevel providers, according to The Detroit News, wrote about the bill and the Center’s new study on the issue.

The measure spells out specific training and practice requirements. For instance, a dental therapist must graduate from an accredited dental therapy program, work under the general supervision of a dentist and be limited to places such as licensed hospitals, child health centers and clinics that serve low-income or uninsured patients.

Read the report here.

Read the report in The Detroit News here.

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