Better access to dental services: A new mid-level dentistry occupation?

Riverwalk Dental is a strong and unwavering advocate for extensive, affordable, and safe availability to dental care for everyone in Massachusetts.  We would like to take some time to offer our thoughts on the newest initiative in the Bay State to make this a reality.

Child tooth examin in Andover MAOver the years, on and off again the Massachusetts legislature considered a mid-level dentistry occupation that would be similar to nurse practitioners and physician assistants, opening the door to more people to practice dental procedures.  In a nutshell, the conundrum revolves around the cost and time to be educated and experienced enough to practice dentistry legally, and how that translates to the cost to administer the service.  As requirements become more stringent, the debt in time and education a dental practitioner must invest increases significantly, and therefore must charge for services once they are legally capable of doing so.

The Problem Defined by the Experts

According to MassLive.com, there are over 60 areas in Massachusetts designated as having a dentist shortage, creating a serious access problem to both adults and children.  According to the Lowell Sun, a bill proposed by Senator Harriette Chandler of Worcester, MA in 2016 would allow dental hygienists to perform tooth extractions and other procedures, but “ignores the fact that more than half a million people live in areas with a shortage of dentists and doesn’t acknowledge the national standards for these providers that ensure they will practice safely and effectively.”

Furthermore, on February 15th of this year, Dr. Raymond Martin, president of the Massachusetts Dental Society was quoted by the Boston Globe as saying “We just don’t think it’s safe enough, when you consider that they’re doing irreversible procedures,” procedures that are part and parcel of at least one of the bills being considered on Beacon Hill.

These concerns are real, but death from lack of dental care has happened.  An article written for WGBH/Frontline titled “Tragic Results When Dental Care Is Out Of Reach,” cites two cases over the last 10 years in which death has resulted from dental infections.  The article quotes Dr. Bill Calnon, the president of the American Dental Association, as saying “The vast majority of dental disease is preventable,” and “totally unnecessary.”

Could such tragedies increase if less experienced people are allowed to practice dentistry?  Or would the availability of health services due to the new mid-level occupation prevent such tragedies from happening?  It is hard to say.

Riverwalk Dental MassachusettsRiverwalk Dental’s Position

Dr. Beninato and Dr. Patsi believe strongly in safe and affordable care for everyone in the Merrimack Valley area and beyond.  With so many areas throughout Massachusetts underserved with such a critical need like oral health, improved access is an absolute necessity.  An underlying concern often expressed by caregivers of all types is the reality that when policy makers set medical standards, patients can sometimes be mislead to believe that sanction by public officials equals trust and quality service.  Although this is often the case, when it comes to one’s health, caution is strongly recommended.

No matter the results of this effort to broaden the occupational levels of the dentistry profession in order to achieve the goal of better access to oral health care, patients must always trust but verify all procedures are safe and necessary.   Once a tooth is altered or removed, it is that way forever.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Whether a mid-level dentistry occupation is successfully implemented in Massachusetts or not, remember to brush and floss every day while getting a checkup every six months!  Teeth can last a lifetime with only a very small amount of time dedicated every day.