In 2003 only half of New Hampshire’s dentists accepted Medicaid patients. A decade later, the situation is the same. And while the opening of community dental clinics – there are now 17 in the state – has helped meet the needs of low-income residents and the uninsured, a big void remains. To help fill it, lawmakers should pass Senate Bill 193, which would create the position of dental therapist, a dental hygienist with sufficient additional training to perform a limited range of dental services that would include providing local anesthesia, drilling and placing temporary fillings and performing simple extractions.
The New Hampshire Dental Society opposes the legislation. Most private dental practices and some clinics that charge on a sliding scale are operating below capacity, the society says, though that’s not the case with the dental clinic at Concord Hospital. The society worries about the quality of care dental therapists would provide, and it wants lawmakers to allow more time to see how well other measures to increase access work. Those include last year’s creation of the position of public health dental hygienist and new dental society education, outreach and coordination efforts to divert patients from hospital emergency rooms to dental clinics and practices that accept Medicaid.