Proposed Bill Would Expand Vermonters' Access To Dental Care

Feb 4, 2015

A large coalition of health and consumer groups is backing a plan to improve access to dental care for thousands of Vermonters. The bill would allow newly licensed dental practitioners to offer care throughout the state.

Peter Youngbaer is the director of the People's Health and Wellness Clinic in Barre. The clinic provides health and dental care to uninsured and underinsured people in central Vermont. He says there's a huge demand for dental services.

"I can tell you that access to oral health care is the single largest problem facing our patients. Last year, 44 percent of the patients who came to us had not seen a dentist in over five years or never,” Youngbaer says.

"I can tell you that access to oral health care is the single largest problem facing our patients. Last year, 44 percent of the patients who came to us had not seen a dentist in over 5 years or never." - Peter Youngbaer, director of the People's Health and Wellness Clinic in Barre

Vermont Technical College would offer a degree for the program and the dental practitioners would work under the supervision of a dentist. The goal is to have them provide less complicated dental care.

Randolph Rep. Patsy French is a co-sponsor of the bill. She says access to dental care is very difficult for people who don't have insurance. And she says many dentists are reluctant to take on any more Medicaid patients because the reimbursement rate is so low. "I think that this addition to the dental workforce will provide greater access to Vermonters who are having trouble accessing dental care now,” says French.

"We feel as though Vermonters deserve to see a dentist." - Vaughn Collins, executive director of the Vermont State Dental Society

Vaughn Collins, executive director of the Vermont State Dental Society, is concerned that the new license wouldn't require enough training. He also says access to dental care is pretty good in Vermont.

“Are there some people who don't get it? Unfortunately, yes,” Collins says. “And there are probably distributional issues in the state relative to the rural areas. But we feel as though Vermonters deserve to see a dentist and with that level of training and we've been doing a good job thus far and would like to find ways to be able to expand upon that.”

The Senate Health Care committee will begin its review of the bill later this week.