Saturday, May 18, 2024

New WA law will bring dental care to underserved communities


Legislation passed in Olympia this year will provide more dental-care access to underserved communities. House Bill 1678 authorizes dental therapists to work in community health clinics or federally qualified health centers. Marcy Bowers, executive director of the Statewide Poverty Action Network, said the new law will allow more staff capacity to dental-care teams in these facilities to assist dentists.

"Those providers are able to see more patients, can get out into more community settings to provide basic care," she said, "and, I think as importantly, are able to find providers from their community to work in their communities as well."

More than two million Washingtonians have a dental-care provider shortage in their area.

Bowers said the dental therapist model has been successful in tribal settings in Washington and in other states. The Washington State Dental Association opposed the legislation, saying it could create safety issues.

Bowers noted that many of the patients at health centers are low income, and dental therapists will help reduce the cost of care. She said groups have been working for more than a decade in the state of Washington to authorize dental therapists and members of the community were overjoyed at its passage.

"To be able to hear community members say, 'Wow! Thank you so much for pushing for so long to do something that means so much to us, that maybe we can concentrate more at work. We can not feel embarrassed about our teeth. Maybe we can smile again in public,'" she said.

In another effort to increase access to dental care and address the provider-shortage issue in the state, lawmakers also passed House Bill 1466 this session. The bill will make it easier for dental hygienists who move from other states to practice sooner. Both bills are on Gov. Jay Inslee's desk, awaiting his signature.


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