Far too many children in Maine lack access to the dental services they need to grow and thrive.
The first step in ensuring that our children receive quality oral health care is an annual dental check-up. It seems so simple, but in Maine this is much easier said than done. One of the greatest barriers standing in the way of our children’s health is the widespread lack of access to essential dental services in Maine. However, right now lawmakers are exploring new options to get more Mainers necessary dental care.
In Maine, 15 out of the 16 counties contain federally designation dental health professional shortage areas. This means in all but one Maine County there are more than 5,000 people per one individual dentist. Simply put, there are not enough dentists in a large percentage of the state to adequately serve the oral health needs of the people.
Adding to the problem, Maine’s practicing dentists are concentrated in the few larger Maine cities and towns. For example, over one-third of practicing dentists in Maine are located in Cumberland County, where only 21 percent of Maine people live according to a 2013 Maine CDC Oral Health Report.
This unequal distribution of access to dental care is problematic. Not only is it difficult for parents and children to find a dentist, but once they get an appointment, it is hard to get there. Furthermore, Mainers are not experiencing this dental care shortage equally. This means many people may not realize how dire the shortage is, especially for folks in rural communities, and it is negatively affecting our kids.
The lack of access to oral health care increases dental health problem for kids, and also leads to other poor health outcomes, including increased rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, two of the leading public health problems in Maine.
According to data from the most recent National Survey of Children’s Health estimates:
- 49,500 Maine children did not receive preventative dental care in the past year.
- 57 percent were Maine children from low income households.
- 13 percent were Maine children from households with incomes greater than 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.
The data tells us that access to quality oral health care is a real problem for children and families in Maine. It is time for creative solutions.
Right now Maine legislators are considering a bill that will align educational and supervision standards for Dental Hygiene Therapists (DHTs) with new, nationally-recognized guidelines. In 2014, DHTs were established to provide safety net clinics and private practice dentists a way to extend care to people who cannot get care.
LD 1514, An Act to Conform Maine Law to the Requirements of the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation, will:
- Align with Commission on Dental Accreditation’s (CODA) national accreditation standards
- Allow educational institutions to work with CODA to design curriculum and degree offerings
- Grants supervision authority exclusively to the supervising dentist
- Establish reciprocity for DHTs trained in other states.
To contact your legislator about LD 1514, visit www.dentalaccessforme.com, fill in your zip code, and send your legislator an email today!