Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dental health reform on the horizon for New Mexico


John Schmidt | Staff Writer | 0 comments

A bill that could potentially improve New Mexico’s bleak dental health issues if approved will be reviewed on Feb. 23.

New Mexico currently ranks 49th in the United States when it comes to the number of dentists per 1,000 residents ratio. The Dental Therapist-Hygienist bill that could help change this poor position has been unanimously passed by the House Health, Government and Indian Affairs Committee and will go to the House Business and Industry Committee this Saturday, Feb. 23.

“We believe that everyone should be able to get quality, affordable dental care in their own communities,” said Barbara Webber, executive director for Health Action New Mexico.

In an interview, she said that the rural areas furthest away from major cities are the ones most affected by the current state of New Mexico dental health care.

According to Webber, the populations of these rural areas are not high enough to support the salaries of dentists looking to open practices. This prompts dentists to go to larger towns and, as a result, these areas are at a very high risk-level for oral disease. Webber said that in Clayton, N.M., Health Action conducted a study that found 53 percent of children had bad oral health.

The bill, if passed, would bring teams of dentists to the underserved areas so that residents could obtain their services at affordable prices. New Mexico demographics that would benefit from this act are rural families, tribal communities, seniors, veterans and those with disabilities.

These teams would also take part in educating the community about the importance of oral health. Webber said she believes this is important because, though dental diseases are bad enough on their own, they are connected to many other health issues like heart and brain disease and diabetes.

According to a news release from Health Action New Mexico, 30 of the 33 counties in New Mexico are experiencing serious dental care shortages and 69 percent of dentists in the state exclusively work in larger cities. If the bill is passed, it will allow teams to come into the state and provide care in 30 of these overlooked counties.

The bill has more than 60 endorsers and is gaining more as communities and organizations hear about what will be accomplished if it is passed. The list of endorsers is made up of tribal organizations, school councils, physicians, faith-based entities and dentists.

The list of opponents that oppose the bill is much shorter and, perhaps, a little odd. Both the New Mexico Dental Association and the New Mexico Dental Board do not approve of this bill being passed. The two groups are currently backing a different bill that is designed to reform dental health care in New Mexico as well. Their bill, Webber said, would make the problem last.