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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

New Providers Could Fill Gap in Rural Dental Care

Part of the dental shortage is that few dentists accept Medicaid. In Kansas, it's 25 percent, compared with 90 percent of physicians.

Able to clean teeth, like a hygienist, but also fill cavities like a dentist. If you've never heard of a registered dental practitioner, it's probably because they are only legal in two states, Alaska and Minnesota. Like nurse practitioners, these mid-level providers are aimed at helping underserved rural areas.

Now, Kansas is among several other states looking at allowing mid-level dental providers, reports Bryan Thompson for Kansas Public Radio and Kaiser Health News:

In Kansas, bills were introduced in the state House and Senate during the 2011 legislative session, and are awaiting further action next year. And now Fort Hays State University, located in western Kansas, is offering to start training these mid-level dental providers--if and when state lawmakers give the idea the green light.

But, writes Thompson, getting that green light for the legislation won't be easy.

The Kansas Dental Association opposes it, and the American Dental Association has expressed serious concerns about the concept. At a recent legislative hearing, two pediatric dentists testified that the RDPs would not have adequate training for procedures such as tooth extraction and filling cavities. They argue that this would mean a two-tiered system of care in Kansas--top quality care for those with the money to pay for dental services, and lower-quality care for those who can’t pay.

Nationally, some 52 million Americans live in areas short-staffed in terms of dental providers. In Kansas, nearly 1 in 5 residents lives in such an underserved area, just a bit above the rate in Missouri. That's close to double the national rate of 1 in 10. Rural states in general tend to have fewer providers per capita (that's why the mid-level dental movement started in Alaska, and the nurse practitioner movement started in Colorado).

This video was produced by the Kansas Dental Project, a group supporing the legislation:


In Kansas, the new mid-level practitioners would go through the same training as hygienists, and then would complete an additional 18 months of training.