Image by University of the Fraser Valley via flickr.
There are more than 300,000 dental assistants at work across America and their ranks are expected to increase 25 percent in the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as a result of the recognition of the link between oral health and overall health.
Their work often includes helping dentists with procedures, taking and developing X-rays, preparing and sterilizing instruments, making appointments, keeping records, and giving patients post-operative instructions.
But, from state to state, duties, credentialing, and training standards vary widely.
Oral health topic leader Mary Otto provides some background, the latest news on what’s happening in various states and links in a new tip sheet to help reporters learn what changes may be in the works in their state – just in time for Dental Assistants Recognition Week, March 2-8. It might be an opportunity to take a look at this changing profession and write about what dental assistants are doing in your state.
Image by sunnyviewdental via flickr.
Adult dental benefits would be added to South Carolina’s Medicaid program under a plan being considered by the state legislature.
Preventive and restorative dental benefits for poor adults are part of a package of proposed Medicaid enhancements that also includes health screenings and weight-loss help, Seanna Adcox reported in a Feb. 5 story for The Associated Press.
The new benefits were part of state Medicaid Director Tony Keck’s budget presentation before a House Ways and Means panel, Adcox wrote. The initiatives would cost $15.3 million from state taxes and $52 million total when including federal money.
Currently, the state Medicaid program covers only emergency tooth extractions in specific cases of medical necessity. Continue reading
Open wide! A free one-day dental clinic for low-income children may be coming to a school or community center near you.
February is Children’s Dental Health Month, an opportunity for oral health professionals and advocates to raise awareness about the importance of getting care to kids, particularly those who might otherwise go without.
On Friday, Feb. 7, the American Dental Association is officially kicking off its 12th annual Give Kids a Smile Day program with free care for kids at the Howard University College of Dentistry here in Washington, D.C.
Similar events are being planned throughout the country. To find out what is going on in own area, check with your local or state dental society.
Give Kids a Smile clinics are typically organized differently than the big free Mission of Mercy events that have crowds of adults lining up spontaneously at fairgrounds and gymnasiums. The 175 children expected at the Howard University dental college were screened in December by volunteer dentists who visited local elementary schools. The kids will be getting their needed follow-up treatments on Give Kids a Smile Day. Continue reading
It was more than two years ago that Marc Ramirez offered the first part of the story to readers of The Dallas Morning News. Last month they got an update on the tale of a young woman and her smile.
“Robina Rayamajhi used to practice smiling with her lips closed, so self-conscious was she about the turmoil that lay behind,” Ramirez explained in October 2011.
Though legally blind, the University of North Texas student was excelling in school. Her heart was set on becoming a lawyer, Ramirez noted. But severe dental problems left unaddressed in her native Nepal were impacting her health, as well as her confidence.
The young woman had an underdeveloped jaw, which caused crowding among the teeth that had grown in. Meanwhile, other teeth were missing.
“Some teeth seemed too big, others too small. Another seemed totally superfluous. Her lips couldn’t comfortably close, and she constantly bit her tongue,” Ramirez wrote. Her gums were often inflamed. And she was shy about her appearance.
“Smiles are the green lights of human interaction. They lift moods, enhance beauty, indicate approachability,” Ramirez observed. Rayamajhi’s smile was holding her back. Continue reading
A Hawaiian pre-schooler died after lapsing into a coma in a dentist’s chair. Now state authorities are investigating her dentist, according to a report by Susan Essoyan of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. (The articles are behind a paywall but AHCJ has been given permission to republish them here.)
“The state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs has begun an investigation of Kailua dentist Dr. Lilly Geyer after a 3-year-old girl fell into a coma while she was in the dentist’s chair and later died,” Essoyan reported on Jan. 8.
“Finley Puleo Boyle, the only child of Ashley and Evan Boyle of Kailua, never awoke after losing consciousness and suffering massive brain damage following heavy sedation at the dentist’s office Dec. 3, her mother said.”
The little girl died Jan. 3 at a local hospice. Continue reading
In November’s Health Affairs, Conan Murat explored his experiences as a dental health aide therapist (DHAT), providing care to his fellow native Alaskans in remote villages on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
Recently, Murat was in Washington, D.C., to join a crowd of oral health advocates who say technically trained dental providers could help answer the need for care in many other poor and isolated communities across the United States.
“This whole movement thing seems like it’s really starting to get going,” noted Murat, looking out over the crowd at the Dental Therapist Conference Convening, hosted by Community Catalyst, a national nonprofit promoting grassroots efforts to change the health care system.
Organized dental groups have fought hard against the therapist model in recent years, saying no one but dentists should be allowed to drill cavities and extract teeth. Continue reading
Image by The National Guard via flickr.
Catherine Saint Louis of The New York Times took a hard national look at the pediatric dental benefits being offered on the state exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.
Her reporting led her to the troubling gulf that oral health advocates have been warning about.
While kids’ dental coverage is included as one of the 10 essential health benefits under the nation’s health care reform law, “pediatric dental care is handled differently” from other coverage on the federal and state exchanges, she wrote in her Dec. 16 story, “A Gap In the Affordable Care Act.”
Dental plans “are often sold separately from medical insurance, and dental coverage for children is optional,” she noted. “People shopping on the exchanges are not required to buy it and do not receive financial support for buying it.”
Experts have cautioned that the problems could leave millions of children without access to dental care. Continue reading
Hundreds of thousands of adults and children in Colorado will soon get dental coverage thanks to health care reform efforts in the state.
But many of these new beneficiaries may have trouble finding a dentist to treat them, writes Michael Booth in a good story for The Denver Post, “Flood of new dental patients in Colorado meets trickle of caregivers.”
“A new dental benefit for adults with Medicaid, coupled with an Obamacare expansion of eligibility and pediatric benefits required on the state exchange, will balloon the number of paying patients,” he explains.
“About 335,000 current Medicaid adults gain access to dental care in the spring, and tens of thousands more will join Medicaid rolls under the Affordable Care Act expansion. Added to them will be potentially thousands of privately insured children with dental care included under “essential benefits” minimums of the state health exchange.”
But health advocates warn that if just a quarter of the newly enrolled Coloradans start using their dental benefits, the system will be strained. Continue reading
Dental therapists have the potential to expand access to oral health care, though opponents (such as the American Dental Association) argue that only dentists should perform surgical procedures such as restorations and extractions.
The rules around what dental therapists can do depend on the state. Minnesota authorized the licensing of dental therapists in 2009. But dental health aide therapists started providing care in Alaskan villages in 2005. Working under the general supervision of dentists, DHATS provide access to care to more than 40,000 Alaska Natives, many of them living in remote and isolated areas.
We’ve updated the oral health core topic area with more information about dental therapists.
There are new entries in the glossary, key concepts section and some data that looks at New Zealand’s use of dental therapists, where they’ve been practicing since 1921, and explores use of the model in the United States.
It’s worth seeing what the rules are in your state and whether there is a movement to allow dental therapists to provide more care. Check and see if there are “Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas” near you and talk to health professionals about whether dental therapists might improve access to care.
Photo: Carla K. Johnson
Dan Lustig, C. Scott Litch and Dr. John Rutkausas (left to right) spoke on a panel in Chicago about the Affordable Care Act.
Plenty of good story ideas await journalists willing to explore the nooks and crannies of the nation’s health care law. The Chicago chapter of AHCJ delved into some of these story ideas at a recent meeting titled “Fresh Stories Ahead for the Affordable Care Act.”
For instance, dental coverage for children is an essential health benefit under the law. Consumers in Illinois are able to buy pediatric dental coverage as a stand-alone plan, bundled with a medical plan or “embedded” into a medical plan. Panelist Dr. John R. Rutkausas, chief executive officer of the Chicago-based American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, predicts consumers will be disappointed if they buy an embedded plan with a high deductible. It may be a rude surprise to learn they may have to pay all their children’s dental care out of pocket because they haven’t yet met their deductible. Continue reading