In Massachusetts, the burden of dental disease is disproportionately borne by low-income residents, racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, seniors in long-term care, and those living in rural areas and inner cities. Many in these vulnerable groups struggle to access dental care, often because they cannot find a dentist who accepts public insurance, are unable to get to a dental office because of mobility challenges, or cannot afford a dentist. Poor oral health can lead to pain, cause people to miss school or work, and compromise their overall health.
These gaps in access have high and growing costs. When people cannot obtain dental care, they sometimes visit emergency rooms for relief; the state’s Medicaid program, MassHealth, paid $11.6 million from 2008 to 2011 for emergency room dental care for adults.
To ease these financial and health burdens, Massachusetts needs more providers who can deliver cost-effective dental care to those who most need it, especially in settings beyond the traditional dental office. New legislation, SD 1169/HD 2474, introduced by state Senator Harriette Chandler and Representative Kate Hogan and Representative Smitty Pignatelli, would authorize Dental Therapists in Massachusetts, increasing dental access for vulnerable populations and making care more affordable. This important bill presents a critical opportunity for Massachusetts to close gaps in dental access for seniors, low-income families, children, and people with special needs.