Vermont Dental Hygienists’ Association
PO Box 1482
Williston VT, 05495-1482
The 2013 Free Dental Day sponsored by the Vermont Dental Hygienists’ Association and held on April 6th at Vermont Technical College’s Dental Hygiene School in Williston highlighted the many dental professionals willing to donate their time to provide care to people who need but cannot afford dental care. The day also highlighted the depth of unmet need for dental care in Vermont – a need so great, we cannot volunteer our way out it by holding a one-day event each year. We treated over 80 Vermonters, provided over $ 82,000 worth of services, and had a waiting list of almost 100 for whom we could not provide care that day. And, unfortunately, this event does not address the ongoing and follow-up needs of the people who attend the day. Our oral health care system is broken.
Good oral health is part of being healthy and everyone deserves access to dental care – but our health care system treats oral health separately. High costs and limited access to dentists are the main reasons why so many Vermonters lack access to affordable preventive and routine dental care. In the VTC dental hygiene clinic we provide preventive and diagnostic services at a significantly reduced fee for 2200 patients every year. These folks cannot afford to have their basic dental needs met in a traditional setting, and it is heartbreaking to see the same patients return year after year with untreated and progressing decay.
Vermont’s statewide numbers are alarming. In 2009, over 70,000 adults reported not getting dental care because they could not afford it and in the same year over 24,000 children with Dr. Dynasaur did not see a dentist. It is time to consider long- term solutions a health care crisis that impacts far too many Vermonters of all ages.
There’s no quick or easy solution to improving access to dental care. We need a multi-pronged approach that includes insurance coverage of dental care for adults, expanding benefits for dentures and raising Medicaid reimbursement rates for dental services. Also, it is important to understand that as more people seek dental care or gain access to coverage they will still have difficulty finding providers. No matter what else we do, we need to expand the dental workforce to include a “licensed dental practitioner” (LDP) – like a nurse practitioner is to a doctor in the medical community – to help expand access to routine dental care and ensure it is more available to all Vermonters.
Time and again, Vermont has been recognized as a leader in health care reform in the nation. It is time for us to bring that same spirit of innovation and collaboration to providing accessible and affordable oral health care for all Vermonters. The professionals who volunteer their time at events like VDHA/VTC’s Free Dental Day should be commended. But we can and must do better to meet the oral health needs of Vermonters of all ages.
Sheila Bannister, RDH, M.Ed
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