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At Statehouse Event, Senators Lehner and Thomas Join Dentists to Discuss Dental Workforce Legislation

[published: 05/25/2017 in Legislative Updates]

Today at the Ohio Statehouse, Senator Peggy Lehner (R-Dayton) and Senator Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati) joined dentists and advocates to discuss dental access in Ohio and to describe how Senate Bill 98 (SB98), the Dental Therapist Bill, will help improve access to needed dental care. SB98, a bill cosponsored by Senators Lehner and Thomas, would allow dental therapists to practice in Ohio’s underserved communities.Dental therapists are specially trained professionals who can provide a limited number of treatment services like filling cavities.

The Senators were joined by Dr. Larry Hill of Cincinnati, representing several Ohio dentists and the board of UHCAN Ohio. Dr. Hill and colleagues sent a letter to all members of the House and Senate outlining their concerns about the impact of lack of access to dental care. Their letter indicated that across the state, “hundreds of thousands of Ohioans lack access to oral health care because gaps in the dental workforce leave many communities and some entire counties without enough dental providers. In fact, Ohio has 88 designated dental health professional shortage areas where there are simply not enough dentists to meet the needs. Many of these areas are in rural towns and counties and low-income urban neighborhoods. A workforce analysis conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows the dental provider shortage getting worse over the next decade, leaving more Ohioans without access to dental care.”

To address these worsening gaps in the dental workforce, Senators Lehner and Thomas have introduced SB 98. Working as part of the dentist-led team, dental therapists can address the significant shortage of oral health professionals throughout Ohio.

“Good oral health is fundamental to the overall well-being of Ohioans,” said Senator Lehner. “We must be open to new approaches in providing dental care because it is increasingly obvious that our needs can no longer be met by a 20th century model of delivery.”

Senator Thomas echoed this concern, stating, “So many areas in Ohio lack adequate dental services. The need for access to dental care has been identified in 58 of Ohio’s 88 counties. This lack of dental care has a greater impact on the low-income population. We need to address access to professional dental care in Ohio so all Ohioans get the care they deserve.”

Dr. Hill noted “As a dental program director for almost 4 decades, I can tell you a little about the challenges of recruitment and retention of dental providers in low income and rural communities. Bryan Ohio for example is a small community in NW rural Ohio. Bryan has a federally subsidized community health center with 6 new and modern dental treatment rooms that can accommodate two dentists. Within weeks after the center opened there was a waiting list for dental care of over 1000 children and adults. The problem has been finding a dentist. After 15 months, there's already been 3 dentists hired with great salaries and benefits, none of whom have stayed. I think hard working Ohioans need a better answer, a better solution. Dental therapists may not be the complete answer, but it's a model that offers more promise than ever before.

Frank Catalanotto, a Professor in the Department of Community Dentistry and Behavioral Science at the University of Florida College of Dentistry and national leader in support of including the dental therapist in the dentist-led team. Dr. Catalanotto said to Senators Lehner and Thomas: “Senators, when the opponents come to you, I want you to ask one question, only one question. The question is, ‘Thank you very much for telling me how you feel about dental therapists. Can you give me any facts to support your opinion that they are unsafe or not effective?’ And then sit back and be quiet. You will get zero answers…all the facts are in favor and I congratulate you both for supporting this legislation and I am prepared to do anything I can to help you continue this fight.”

“By introducing a bill to bring dental therapists to Ohio, Senators Lehner and Thomas are leading a bipartisan effort to modernize Ohio’s dental workforce and make sure Ohioans in underserved communities have access to quality dental care,” said David Maywhoor, Project Director of UHCAN Ohio’s Dental Access Now! campaign. “SB98 must be passed by Ohio’s legislature so that Ohioans suffering from untreated tooth decay won’t have to wait any longer to get the dental care they need.” Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio (UHCAN Ohio) is a statewide non-partisan, non-profit organization building the voice of consumers to achieve quality, affordable, accessible health coverage for all Ohioans. 

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