Access to dental health care is often tied to employer-provided dental insurance.
Many lower wage service workers do not receive these benefits even while employed, and many are now out of work.
Those on Medicare must purchase dental insurance or pay as they go.
For many, the cost of dental care is unaffordable.
Low-income families who qualify for Medicaid are provided with dental coverage, but a majority of dentists do not accept these patients due to low reimbursement rates.
Early attention to oral care for children is important for nutrition, speech, and self-esteem.
Later in life, inflammation in the mouth due to poor oral hygiene increases the risk for diabetes and heart disease, both associated with poor outcomes for COVID-19.
According to a Feb. 11, 2019 article in The Seattle Times, 38 out of 39 counties in Washington state do not have enough dental providers to meet demand.
There are 385,000 children insured under Medicaid who did not receive dental care.
Senate Bill SB 5143 would expand access by increasing licensure of dental therapists in Washington.
These mid-level providers are being used effectively in federal and tribal clinics.
Just as nurse practitioners and physician assistants have become integral to meeting health care needs, dental therapists can provide basic restorative services freeing dentists to focus on more complex cases.
The lower cost and time involved in training dental therapists makes it feasible to bring more diverse and affordable dental providers to underserved rural and urban areas.
Visit the Washington Dental Access Campaign online for information.