Arizona Budget Restores Emergency Dental Benefits

Dentistry Today


The budget passed by the Arizona State Legislature and signed by Governor Doug Ducey on May 12 restores emergency dental benefits to adults in the state’s Medicaid program. The adult dental benefit was eliminated from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) during the Great Recession, prompting those in need of dental care to turn to emergency rooms for help.

“We can’t thank the governor and the legislature enough for recognizing this need. We’ve heard a lot about lack of access to dental care,” said Eric Curtis, DDS, president of the Arizona Dental Association (AzDA). “The best way to increase access is to break down barriers, which is what this budget item does. It’s the right diagnosis and solution.”

Emergency rooms aren’t staffed by dentists, so all doctors there could do to treat patients with toothaches or oral disease was triage the infection or ease the pain. The underlying problem would remain, ensuring repeat visits to the emergency room. The AzDA wanted the benefit restored so these patients could get appropriate, effective, and fiscally responsible care.

“We’d like to see more comprehensive benefits added for adult AHCCCS patients, but one step at a time,” said Curtis. “This is a major improvement that will help lower-income adults take care of serious health issues that can stand in the way of them getting employment.”

SB1527 sets a $1,000 cap for emergency dental care and extractions. The cost to the state is expected to be offset by reduced emergency room bills. The restoration of adult dental benefits is one of a number of initiatives that the AzDA has promoted to increase access to dental care. For example, the AzDA supported legislative changes approved 2 years ago to enable the use of teledentistry, extending a dentist’s reach into remote areas.

Also, legislation originated by the AzDA allows advanced practice hygienists and expanded function dental assistants with proper experience and training to perform additional duties for patients in the office and in remote or rural areas. Combined with teledentistry, these professionals are expected to greatly expand dentists’ reach into areas in need.

The AzDA also supports work to get more low-income children to dentists. Children have full dental coverage under AHCCCS, but fewer than half use the benefit. The AzDA is working with its partners on outreach to parents.

And, the AzDA supports community dental health coordinators, who come from the communities they serve and understand their cultures. These coordinators emphasize preventive services, helping families take control of their oral health while connecting them with dentists and hygienists.

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