Increasing access to oral health care in Vermont

Voices has long been concerned with health disparities that are masked by Vermont’s relatively good record on providing health care. One of the most significant disparities exists in access to oral health. Because oral health is integral to overall health, the lack of access to dental care in Vermont undermines the health and well being of children and adults alike. We know that when parents don’t access dental care, their kids are less likely to as well.

Our current effort to establish a new provider – known as a dental therapist – to the dental team to provide preventative work and basic restorative care is gaining support in the House after passing the Senate last year.

To date, testimony has established the need for new workforce solutions to address access challenges, especially in rural communities and in vulnerable populations like people in poverty and people in nursing homes. Voices for Vermont’s Children’s Associate Director Michelle Fay kicked off the hearing with an overview of the access problems for children and the proven effectiveness of dental therapists. You can read her testimony here.

Retired dentist Dr. Jim Gold shared his support for dental therapists and debunked a number of myths and misunderstandings about midlevel providers. You can read an opinion piece he authored here.

Outside of the statehouse, we have been working to elevate the voices of people who are impacted by the lack of dental care in their community. You’ll find one Vermont family’s story about their support for dental therapy on our website. And on the provider side, meet Amra Heco, a licensed dental hygienist and expanded function dental assistant who wants to be Vermont’s first dental therapist so she can better meet the needs of her community.

The Vermont Oral Health Care for All Coalition’s more than 40 member organizations represent tens of thousands of Vermonters eager for a solution to our health care access crisis. In spite of this support and the extensive data on the safety and efficacy of dental therapists around the world, the Vermont State Dental Society continues to actively oppose the bill, and unfortunately no amount of research or information has been able to change their position. But just as primary care providers eventually came to terms with the need for team-based care that empowers every member to operate at the top of his or her license, dentistry will evolve. Once the legislation has passed and the political issue is resolved, our coalition looks forward to working with the many supportive dentists committed to providing oral health care to underserved Vermonters through the use of dental therapists.

Other media links on dental therapy:

Status of the Bill: The House Human Services committee held hearings in January, and convened a joint hearing with House Government Operations in mid-February to take testimony from Dr. Leon Assael, Dean of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, during his visit to Vermont. Human Services will resume their deliberations as soon as possible after returning from break.