How to bring more healthy smiles to Kansas

opinions

February 22, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Sometimes good ideas take awhile to catch on.
Such is with the proposal to create the position of registered dental practitioners in Kansas.
The positions are similar to advanced registered nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants who work with physicians in their practices or in hospitals. A registered dental practitioner would work under the supervision of a dentist and be responsible for “fill and drill” procedures and  non-surgical extractions, leaving the most complex procedures to dentists and oral surgeons.
As has been proven with a doctor’s practice, the extra expertise helps attract more patients because they can be seen in a timely fashion. And dentists, just as with doctors, are critical to the economic viability of a community. Manufacturers choose to locate in communities that can satisfy their workers’ needs.
Of Kansas’ 105 counties, 91 face a dental shortage. Fourteen Kansas counties have no dentists at all. Of the dentists we have, the average age is approaching retirement with no plan of replacement.
A dentist can “comfortably” treat 10-12 patients a day, according to Dr. Daniel Minnis in information presented in a documentary called The Kan-sas Dental Project.
Minnis estimated most Kansas dentists have about 700 patients waiting to be seen and are booked three to five months in advance.
Even if local dentists work at double the pace that Dr. Minnis advises, they’ll never catch up.
“There’s no way we can take care of the need,” said Jason Wesco, who works to recruit dentists and dental hygienists through the Pittsburg-based Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, which also has an office in Iola.
Annual free dental clinics called Mission of Mercy typically see 2,000 patients in one fell swoop.
“We probably need 100 of those a year,” Wesco said.
The dentist-to-patient ratio in southeast Kansas is one dentist for every 3,977 residents — almost four times greater than the national average.
That statistic alone sends red flags to prospective industries looking to locate to Kansas.
“WARNING: This state is below standard.”

GOING BEYOND the numbers is the stark reality that dental decay is the number one disease among children who in their growing years are particularly susceptible to cavities and infections if their teeth and gums are left untended.
Infected gums and rotting teeth affect a child’s overall health, his ability to learn and his performance in school.
If a student is in pain, his attention isn’t focused on his ABCs.
At the other end of the spectrum, senior citizens in nursing homes have difficulty accessing adequate dental care. For some, their Medicare policies don’t include dental care. For others, physically getting to the dentist’s office is too much of a chore.
Dental practitioners would make “house calls” to elderly facilities and schools — helping our most vulnerable populations.
The continued migration of rural folk to cities robs towns like Iola of its grocery stores, its retail businesses, and its professionals — unless we work to turn the trend around.
Creating a mid-level position would increase the provider pool substantially, not only filling a need, but working to stave off further decline.

A HEARING on House Bill 2280 which proposes the licensure of a registered dental practitioner stalled last week in the Health and Human Services Committee under the direction of Rep. Brenda Land-wehr, R-Wichita.
A similar proposal, Senate Bill 19, has yet to be heard in the Senate’s Public Health and Welfare committee under the leadership of Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka.
E-mail Schmidt today at vicki.schmidt@senate.ks.gov and Landwehr at brenda.landwehr-@house.ks.gov and tell them of your support for the position of registered dental practitioners.
It’ll mean more healthy smiles for Kansas.

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