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Senate Bill focuses on improving Michigan dental care

picture of dentist working in mouth
Wikimedia Commons

A bi-partisan bill addressing the need for increasing dental care to rural and low-income communities will be taken up on the Michigan Senate floor this week. With roughly one-third of Michigan residents lacking dental insurance the Senate bill allows for a new classification of dentist serving areas short of much needed care.

The Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health says in 2015, roughly one-third of Michiganians were without dental insurance and that leads to people not receiving preventative dental care.

“When these preventative dental issues do not get taken care of people fall back on using very expensive alternatives like going to the emergency room.” Michael Van Beek is Director of Research at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He says that’s no place for treating symptoms for a cavity. The cost accrued from children making those kinds of visits in 2011 cost $7.9 million. “That’s a very expensive cost, something that a state insurance program or a state…some other program is going to have to pay the cost for which taxpayers are ultimately.” Senate Bill 541 creates a license for a new class of dentist called a “dental therapist.” “For fiscal conservatives this also is attractive because it will help reduce some of those costs.” 

The MCMCH says there’s a “dentist shortage in 77 of Michigan’s 83 counties.” Loretta Bush is with the Michigan Primary Care Association. She explains “dental therapists” can fill the need. “Take a hygienist, give them additional education, have them work closely with an existing dentist that’s already in many of these rural areas and so that person is actually is able to increase the ability for patients to be able to access dentistry.”

Bush says the next shortage to tackle is the number of Michigan dentists accepting Medicaid.

Patrick Center, WGVU News.

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.