After Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told her social media followers that she was getting orthodontic treatment because, as a member of Congress, she could finally afford it, the National Partnership for Dental Therapy (NPDT) spotlighted her message to encourage Congress to support improved dental access and coverage, including dental therapy.
“The thing is, the most important thing about orthodontic treatment isn’t about how you look (though that is the cherry on top). It’s about your HEALTH,” she Ocasio-Cortez said in her Instagram post. “Not having your bite lined up correctly can be painful and contribute to other health problems (which are also more expensive later on, not just for you but for our WHOLE SOCIETY). DENTAL HEALTHCARE IS HEALTHCARE.”
“Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez said it best. The most important thing about dental care is your health. Your salary and your zip code should not determine whether or not you have a healthy mouth. By sharing her story, the congresswoman has shone a light on this often overlooked healthcare issue,” said Tera Bianchi, dental access program director at nonprofit Community Catalyst, one of the member organizations of the NPDT.
There will be a shortage of more than 15,000 dentists in five years, the NPDT said, and that shortage gets bigger when the number of dentists who accept Medicaid and who know how to treat underserved communities are factored into the equation. Barriers to dental care disproportionately affect low-income, impoverished, and elderly communities, the group said.
Dental therapists focus on routine care just as physician assistants do, the NPDT said, and make it possible for dental clinics to increase access to care where it is needed most. Dental therapists work or are authorized in 12 states, extending quality care to hundreds of thousands of Americans, the NPDT added.
The ADA formally opposes the licensing of dental therapists, noting that there is no available data demonstrating that new practice models have increased access to care at a lower cost. Also, the ADA reports that the current number of dentists will continue to grow through 2035 and outpace population growth, while 27% of dentists can add more patients. Instead of new professionals, the ADA believes efforts should focus on better connecting patients with care.
“As schools begin to reopen across the country, the data on oral health and children is clear. Kids with poor oral health miss more school and geo lower grades, 20% of kids have at least one untreated decayed tooth, and those from low-income families are two times more likely to have cavities,” Bianchi said.
“And, dental access is even worse for those who rely on public insurance programs. Just one-third of US dentists accept any public insurance, and few within that one-third accept a significant number of patients with Medicaid,” Bianchi said.
“For far too long, elite dentist lobby groups have put up roadblocks for dental therapists to enter states as a real solution for all communities because they see them as competition. They are choosing profits over maximizing solutions that will help kids, seniors, and low-income and rural communities get dental care. This puts nearly 60 million Americans at risk for major health issues,” said Bianchi.
“It’s an understatement to say this issue is a crisis for America’s health, but dental therapists are a proven solution. Dental therapists are increasing access to prevention services and reducing the need for extractions,” said Bianchi.
“The first dental therapy program in America recently passed a rigorous accreditation process by the same body that certifies dentist and dental hygienist programs. Put simply, dental therapists lead to more kids having healthier mouths, healthier bodies, and keeping their natural born teeth,” said Bianchi.
“Improving communities’ oral health is a problem we can do something about. The question for leaders is pretty simple. Should all kids have equal access to dental care or not? Thank you, Congressman Ocasio-Cortez, for amplifying the importance of oral healthcare, and we look forward to working with you and your office on solutions,” said Bianchi.