Kansas lawmakers to debate who can pull baby teeth

KANSAS CITY, Kansas Sat Apr 28, 2012 6:52pm EDT

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas (Reuters) - In a debate every parent of a six-year-old can relate to, the Kansas legislature is deciding who can pull baby teeth.

The problem is that rural areas in the United States have a shortage of dentists, and one proposed solution is to license "dental practitioners" who could do things such as fill cavities and pull baby teeth.

But the lobbying group representing dentists in Kansas wants no part of non-dentists messing with people's mouths, saying that only a person with a four-year graduate degree and additional training should be allowed to extract teeth.

"When a dentist cuts into a tooth, that's surgery, even though the public may not think of it that way," said Kansas Dental Association Executive Director Kevin Robertson. Tooth extractions, even of loose primary teeth in children, can get complicated, he said.

About half the 105 counties in Kansas have two or fewer dentists and there are 15 counties with no dentist at all, according to a state report.

Rural counties across the United States struggle to attract dentists as dental school graduates tend to favor the higher pay and amenities of larger communities.

The United States has been slow to adopt dental practitioners, with only Minnesota and Alaska allowing them, although 15 states are considering the idea. A recent study by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, a Michigan-based child healthcare advocacy group, found that dental practitioners permitted in 54 countries provide safe and effective dental care to children.

In Kansas, the debate has landed in the state legislature.

One group that advocates child healthcare is pushing legislation to allow practitioners to fill teeth and remove baby teeth, along with teeth cleaning that dental hygienists already provide. The bill would require practitioners to spend their first 500 hours of practice under supervision of a dentist. Once on their own, they would still have to refer non-routine care to dentists.

"We are seeing a lot of people going without care or having to wait a tremendous amount of time to get basic dental care," said Suzanne Wikle, director of policy and research for the Kansas Action for Children. "Others have to travel great distances to get that care."

But Robertson said practitioners could further reduce the number of dentists in rural areas. Dentists would be less likely to move to an area where they see that dental practitioners are already in business, he said.

The dental association is pushing legislation in Kansas that would expand the services of hygienists to include temporary fillings and adjusting dentures. On the subject of baby teeth, the dentist lobby would allow extractions only if the teeth are very loose. The bill has passed the state House and is awaiting approval in the Senate.

The dental association proposal falls far short of meeting the needs of patients but is "a very small step in the right direction," said Wikle. Her group has vowed to return next year to again seek a broader bill that permits dental practitioners.

(Editing by Greg McCune and Eric Walsh)

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Comments (3)
bondcliff wrote:
are we seeing the beginnings of the GOP health care plan here? Reduce health care cost by reducing health care professionals education requirements? Just like they used to tie the tooth to a doorknob and slam the door in the good old days? Maybe our next step can be to have barbers do surgery again? Shave and a amputation two bits?

Apr 28, 2012 7:25pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
jeff81201 wrote:
A pressing issue of our time.

Apr 29, 2012 8:54am EDT  --  Report as abuse
steveh46a wrote:
This is a quote from the Kellogg Foundation: “An extensive review of the literature documenting care provided by dental therapists and clinical outcomes worldwide indicates that they offer safe, effective dental care to children. Released today by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the study reviews more than 1,100 reports regarding dental therapists and their work in various countries.

“The report documents evidence that dental therapists can effectively expand access to dental care, especially for children, and that the care they provide is technically competent, safe and effective. In addition, the review also showed that the public values the role of dental therapists and there is strong patient and parental support for their work.”

The use of dental therapists would be a huge help in making sure everyone has access to dental care.

Apr 30, 2012 3:25pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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