In far too many parts of our state, for far too many families, oral health care is out of reach.
Children are still suffering in pain for lack of dental treatment, even in the counties with the highest number of children getting dental care. In Spokane County, for example, 44 percent of children enrolled in Apple Health for Kids receive no dental services in the course of a year. Thirty-four counties among our state’s 39 have too few providers to serve local needs.
Natasha Fecteau knows firsthand about the unmet need. “For 42 days I called every weekday morning at 7 a.m. so I could put my name on a list for emergency treatment,” she told legislators Friday, January 27.
The solution, as Natasha and other advocates told state lawmakers when they spoke up for the Dental Access Bill in January hearings in the House and Senate, is a cost-effective local provider to increase the supply of safe, quality care. That’s a dental therapist.
Fecteau and other advocates—including troops of winged tooth fairies—visited lawmakers as part of Have a Heart for Kids Day, Children’s Alliance’s annual advocacy day at the capitol. They urged lawmakers to support dental therapy, asking them to respond to the need for more kids to get timely, preventive oral health care.
Their work was supported by the testimony of Dr. Frank Catalanotto, D.M.D., professor at the School of Community Dentistry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Florida. Dr. Catalanotto highlighted the many ways that dental therapists remove barriers to dental care. Dental therapists “can expand the access of a dentist if a dentist wants to hire them. The dentist only works in the office five days a week, not in the office Saturday. Working-class parents…can go to the dentist’s office on Saturday, or even on Sunday, they can go in the evening hours.”
Convenience like this ought to make dental therapy a common-sense solution. So should the evident need.
Here’s what Children’s Alliance’s Health Policy Director Tatsuko Go Hollo said about those numbers on Monday, January 30, when she urged the Senate Health Care committee to support the bill:
“We cannot say that a statewide average where 1 in every 2 children is not accessing dental care is good enough. We cannot say that we have a strong safety net when 80 percent of American Indian children in parts of our state have decayed teeth. If we do, we are failing our kids.”
That is why we must continue to push the legislature to pass dental therapy. As Tatsuko said, “It’s the right thing for Washington’s kids.”
We call on lawmakers to support the Dental Access bill, House Bill 1364 / Senate Bill 5224. Please join us. Take action today.