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NM Health Advocates Say They'll Try Again to Expand Dental Care

It can be hard to ensure that kids get the dental care they need when many states, including New Mexico, don't have enough dentists. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
It can be hard to ensure that kids get the dental care they need when many states, including New Mexico, don't have enough dentists. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
April 17, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- With all the debate surrounding medical care in the U.S., the topic of oral health isn't often part of the discussion - and in New Mexico, a setback in the Legislature means dental care needs for many will continue to go unmet.

The Dental Therapy Bill, House Bill 264, passed the House this year, but stalled in committee before it could get to the Senate for a vote. One of its goals was to create an Office of State Dental Director.

Health Action New Mexico played a key role in the legislation. Executive Director Barbara Webber said oral health is too serious a problem to downplay its importance.

"We're talking about over a third of the kids in New Mexico in third grade are showing up with untreated dental caries,” Webber said.

And it isn't only kids with cavities who lack treatment. Webber says older people can die from dental conditions that aren't currently covered by Medicare.

The Dental Therapy Bill had been endorsed by dozens of community health groups, dental practitioners and elected officials across the state. Webber said they'll try again in the next legislative session.

She said like many states, there simply aren't enough dentists in New Mexico to treat people, particularly low income residents. House Bill 264 would have allowed Dental Practitioners to provide mid-level dental care in cases that wouldn't require a dentist.

Its critics objected to people who aren't dentists providing care. But Webber said she thinks the real issue was competition.

"There was an amendment from corporate dentistry that they include Dental Therapists,” she said, "and, you know, you get into the major 'turf issues' of corporate dentistry versus small, commercial dentists."

Webber also pointed to the overall segregation of dental services from the rest of medicine as one reason large groups of people don't have sufficient access to dental services.

New Mexico is one of about 20 states considering new models to provide more dental care.

Brett McPherson, Public News Service - NM