Bill Would Create Office of Oral Health

Dental providers are united in their intention to address the poor quality of dental care for California children, but are divided about the best way to do that.

Legislators at last week’s Assembly Committee on Health decided to put aside the disagreement and rancor over the best method to deal with the problem and voted unanimously to approve SB 694 by Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima).

The main component of the bill was never questioned in the health committee hearing — that is, to establish a statewide Office of Oral Health and to have a high-level director of that office. According to bill author Padilla, that new office taps no state funds.

“There is no general fund money in any provision of the bill,” Padilla said. “We think not only will there be savings to the state, but this bill possibly could bring more money to the state, [because] the state office could compete better for federal funding.”

What’s at issue in the bill is the provision for a study to examine provider alternatives California could pursue. According to the bill’s proponents, the lack of access to care is more acute in rural and underserved areas and a new type of non-dentist provider might be able to address that.

“Tooth decay is the number one problem among children in California, and California needs a comprehensive plan to care for them,” said Jenny Kattlove of The Children’s Partnership. “And this is what SB 694 does.”

Guy Acheson, representing the California component of the Academy of General Dentistry, said his organization opposes the workforce study in the bill.

“We’re opposed because … the least effective and most expensive approach to addressing dental decay in children is [targeted by] this study,” Acheson said. “The study supports the surgical or treatment model. And other countries around the world recognize that the medical or preventive approach is the most effective and least expensive approach.”

Acheson said that a similar program to supplement traditional dental providers with non-dentists was tried in New Zealand, and was not effective, he said.

“This study is focused entirely on creating a second tier of non-dentists providing surgical services in an effort to address the problem of tooth decay in children,” he said, rather than focusing on prevention efforts.

Paul Reggiardo, a dentist from Huntington Beach representing the California Society of Pediatric Dentistry, is a strong supporter of the bill but said that members of his own organization disagreed about the workforce survey.

“Quite frankly, our members are divided on what that survey might show,” Reggiardo said. “But isn’t that the purpose of research? To develop the evidence base that would warrant consideration of expanded practice for children in public health settings in California?”

The committee’s legislators agreed, and voted 19-0 to support the bill. It now will head to the Assembly floor, after a month-long recess that starts next week.

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