1.2 million Wisconsinites live in dental care shortage areas. Children, seniors, veterans and the disabled are most likely to lack access to oral care. Here’s a successful effort to provide dental care to underserved populations without relying on taxpayers.
Minnesota dentists now see, and get, value from dental therapists, who've been practicing there for a decade. When its Legislature authorized dental therapists in 2009, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to license dental therapists. Dentists initially were overwhelmingly opposed but have had a collective change of heart.
Dental therapists extend care by providing basic dental procedures that previously only a dentist could do. For example, Elizabeth Branca is trained to fill cavities and conduct exams, opening time in a dentist’s schedule for more complex treatments. Dental therapists are paid at a lower rate than a dentist, making time in their chair more affordable.
In her role as a dental therapist at the two HealthPartners clinics in St. Paul, Minnesota, Katy Leiviska provides basic exams and preventative treatments to patients with state-based insurance.
Wisconsin's dental therapy legislation represents a common-sense, free-market and bipartisan solution to a serious and persistent problem.
The creation of the dental therapy profession in Wisconsin through Senate Bill 89 would be an important step in improving access to and usage of dental care for disadvantaged and underserved populations in Wisconsin and potentially reducing negative economic and societal costs associated with poor oral health.
Wisconsin is one of the worst-performing states in the country at providing dental care for disadvantaged kids.
Wisconsin should join neighbors Minnesota and Michigan, and several other states, in authorizing the creation of these licensed mid-level professionals.
Wisconsin has a dental access problem, especially for low-income individuals, says University of Minnesota professor Morris Kleiner, In this short video, Kleiner explains how allowing dental therapists could provide the solution.
Dental therapists could improve access, use and outcomes, while reducing economic costs associated with the dental care monopoly and unnecessary ER visits for dental treatment.
The Badger State ranks last in the nation for providing oral health care to the more than 550,000 children with dental benefits through Medicaid. Allowing dental therapists in Wisconsin could improve access to care and ease the crisis.