The need to improve access to oral health care in Michigan is not a new issue. Despite efforts, the lack of access persists for many populations in our state. For decades, disparities in oral health have existed due to barriers to access, including a misdistribution of dental providers, a shortage of dentists in Michigan who accept Medicaid and a lack of dentists who specialize in populations such as children, special needs adults and senior citizens. Other barriers to oral health care include lack of transportation, delays in getting appointments during a dental emergency, and lack of awareness of parents and caregivers about the importance of oral health care.
Licensing dental therapists to practice in Michigan will help the numerous populations in our state who remain underserved.
The Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health (MCMCH) and its partners are working to further evidence-based, cost effective policy solutions to improve access to oral health services.
Access to dental care is limited or nonexistent for millions of Michigan residents. Seniors, pregnant women, low-income children, and other special populations are most at-risk for poor oral health. Oral health needs are more severe in certain parts of the state: there is a maldistribution of dentists across the state leaving large portions of rural and urban areas with dental shortages.
Many people cannot receive dental care because they are uninsured or dentists do not accept public insurance. When people cannot get regular, routine dental care, they often resort to emergency rooms for relief of serious, complicated oral health conditions. This costs Michigan taxpayers money and often doesn’t alleviate patients’ underlying medical problems.
The Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health (MCMCH) is working to improve oral health and access to dental care in Michigan. Throughout 2015 MCMCH engaged a variety of
stakeholders on potential policy solutions to Michigan's access challenges. While much was heard about reimbursement needs, the primary policy change mentioned was the need to explore additional
workforce models. In October 2016 a delegation of dentists, hygienists, state agency staff and key stakeholders from Michigan visited Minnesota to learn more about the dental therapist model
currently authorized there.
As a result of the trip and discussions to date, Senate 541 was introduced in September 2017 to create a midlevel provider. This common-sense legislation will allow dentists to hire dental therapists to provide routine care – like filling cavities – under their supervision. These providers, similar to physician assistants on medical teams, give dentists the flexibility to modernize and expand their practices in a financially sustainable way, while also treating more patients who otherwise would not have access to dental care.
Michigan has the opportunity to be a national leader in addressing its oral health needs through this innovative, cost-saving solution.
The Arc Michigan
Michigan Association of Health Plans
Michigan Association of School Nurses
Michigan Association of United Ways
Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness
Michigan Community Action
Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health
Michigan Dental Hygienists’ Association
Michigan Disability Rights Coalition
Michigan League for Public Policy
Michigan Primary Care Association
National Association of Social Workers-Michigan
School-Community Health Alliance of Michigan
Wolverine Dental Hygienists’ Society
Wolverine Human Services
Lynda Gregorini, RDH
Anne Gwozdek, RDH, BA, MA
Jane Halaris RDH, BS, MA
James K. Haveman Jr.
Mailan Hudson, RDH
Annette Jackson, RDH, BS, MCTEc
Lorene Kline, RDH, BSDH
RoseAnn Schihl, RDH, BS
Misty Davis, RDH, BS