Our Opinion: Dental bill will fill a large gap

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The state needs to do better in providing adequate dental care for children and adults on MassHealth, seniors, the disabled and residents of rural areas. A bill before the Legislature will address this failing.

The legislation, introduced in the House by Representative Smitty Pignatelli, D-Lenox, would create a new type of dental professional, an Advanced Dental Hygiene Practitioner. ADHPS are dental hygienists with additional training enabling them to fill cavities, install temporary crowns and perform other relatively routine dental services. With only 21 percent of Massachusetts dentists accepting Medicaid, the ADHPs will fill a huge gap, so to speak, for underserved populations throughout the state.

According to the Pew Charitable Trust, which has been active in dental care issues and supports the legislation, the Massachusetts bill is similar to successful programs in Minnesota and Alaska. These programs not only allow people to get dental care who would not have otherwise but private practices and clinics employing ADHPs were able to attract more Medicaid money. People without dental care often end up in emergency rooms when their problems become acute, and that is costly for the state. MassHealth paid $11.6 million in emergency room dental care for adults between 2008 and 2011 according to the Center for Health Information and Analysis.

Good dental care is important for overall health, and the bill creating the ADHPs will provide that care to large groups of people, young and old, who aren't getting it now. In the bargain, it will save the state money by taking a burden away from MassHealth. We urge Beacon Hill to turn this bill into law during the current session.


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