I see facts and statistics all the time that put New Mexico at the bottom of the national list in health, education and other socioeconomic indicators. There is plenty of work to be done in our state on high school dropout rates, teenage pregnancy, children in poverty, and other areas of socioeconomic wellbeing. Oral health is no different.
The number of dental providers in New Mexico is not enough to meet current demand for dental services let alone the additional demand brought about through newly insured New Mexicans under Medicaid Expansion and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), according to a May 2013 report to the state Legislative Finance Committee.
This is not news for many of us working to bring access to dental services to all New Mexicans. And it’s certainly not news for over 1.31 million New Mexicans, 63% of our population, who according to the report, don’t have access to a dental provider because they live in dental provider shortage areas or underserved areas of our state.
New Mexico has a choice:
- We can either be depressed by the shortage of dental providers and stand frozen in a state of worsening status quo, OR
- We can embrace an innovative, evidence-based solution that creates jobs in NM for NM.
The Solution: Add mid-level dental providers called “Dental Therapists” to NM’s dental team.
In fact, one of the key findings of the report was the NM Legislature should “revisit the concept of dental therapists as an additional way to provide care to underserved areas under the supervision of dentists…"
Dental therapists come from underserved communities and return to serve their home communities. Dental therapists mean:
- Careers and livable wage jobs for all NM communities.
- Serving the oral health needs of their home community.
- Keeping money in the community rather community members taking their dollars to other towns and cities.
- Increased worker and student productivity, fewer school and work days missed because the dental therapist is in town.
- Job opportunities at NM educational institutions with dental therapy education programs.
This makes sense for our communities. People want dental care; and they want jobs for the next generation. Schools are on board, also: at least four NM education institutions are interested in having dental therapy education programs. (Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, Northern NM College, Eastern NM University – Roswell, and Dona Ana Community College). They see dental therapists as a viable solution both to serve their community’s oral health needs and to create new work opportunities. We can turn what is currently a sour situation into better care and increased opportunities for New Mexico communities.
- PamelaWord of Mouth