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Designing a New Tier of Dental Professional in California

About two million California kids will gain access to dental coverage over the next few years as a result of the Affordable Care Act and the state’s decision to shift children from Healthy Families to Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program. ACA also will provide more dental coverage for some adults.

That’s generally considered good news in the dental and children’s health communities … but who’s going to do the work?

In many parts of California, there aren’t enough dentists now, let alone with millions of new mouths to look after. Fifty-three of California’s 58 counties have at least one area with too few dentists, according to HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration.

That’s not to say California doesn’t have enough dentists. According to the California Academy of General Dentistry, California has more dentists per capita than any other state — one dentist for every 1,250 residents, compared with the national average of one dentist for every 1,639 residents.

It’s a problem of distribution, not quantity.

The California Legislature this month will consider a bill aimed at improving dental care for underserved children. SB 694, by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-San Fernando Valley), would:

Create a statewide office of oral health that would help California get federal money for subsidized dental programs; and Authorize a project to explore new workforce training and delivery models with the goal of providing oral care for underserved children.

The bill would launch a project to train a new level of oral health care professional in California — people less educated than dentists but with enough training to perform some dental procedures. The bill would establish the framework for a study — probably about three years long — but it does not spell out the details of how the new tier of providers would be trained or what levels of procedures they’d be able to deliver.

Is California ready to explore new ways to deliver dental care? How should this new tier of dental provider be designed?

We got responses from: