Dental hygiene specialist is not a solution
To the editor:
As one of the 19 dentists Rep. "Smitty" Pignatelli referred to in his May 22 op-ed column, "A way to assure dental care for all," I feel it is important to respond and explain my position. [The column referenced the 19 Berkshire general dentists among the dentists who signed an Eagle ad sponsored by the Berkshire district and Massachusetts dental societies.)
The honorable Mr. Pignatelli and the Berkshire District Dental Society agree upon the need for better dental health care for Berkshire residents. At present, health care and in particular dental health care provided by the Berkshire Medical Center emergency room is expensive and inefficient. The Berkshire Medical Center dental clinic located at 510 North St. has a walk-in clinic for dental emergencies Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The emergency room is only used after hours and on weekends.
The problem is that patients do not come during regular clinic hours to seek dental care but like to get dental care at their convenience on nights and weekends. Mr. Pignatelli's response is with a dental hygiene practitioner, but that does not answer this problem. It would be better taken care of through the actions of social services, for instance with free tax stipends issued to individuals who have MassHealth to get to a MassHealth provider or the BMC dental clinic.
The Massachusetts Dental Society has recommended the hiring of at least eight community dental health workers to connect patients with appropriate care. We also proposed preventative measures (required dental exams for children entering school and community water fluoridation) to help reduce the need for dental treatment.
The number of providers in dentistry in the Berkshires is not growing because it is difficult to attract individuals to a community where economic development is stagnant or diminishing, as is occurring in the Berkshires. The new providers, as proposed by Mr. Pignatelli, have in Minnesota and Alaska ended up working in large cities similar to Boston, Worcester or Springfield. MassHealth lists two open providers within a 5-mile radius of every MassHealth patient in Berkshire County. Public health resources should be addressing issues such as education to seek dental treatment prior to occurrence of pain and for municipal fluoridation of water systems.
Many of my colleagues and I find it more feasible to volunteer our time, as I do as an attending dentist and teacher at the Berkshire Medical Center dental clinic, and/or as Volunteers in Medicine in Great Barrington, than to take MassHealth in our office, which carries high overhead.
Edwin J. Helitzer, D.M.D. Pittsfield The writer is Berkshire dental representative to the Mass. Council on Dental Care and Benefits Programs, and chairman of the Massachusetts Dental Society Peer Review Council.