Legislature Approved Best Dental-Care Bill

By Robert J. Manzanares / President, New Mexico Dental Association on Mon, May 9, 2011

The New Mexico Dental Association agrees that accessing dental care is an important concern for New Mexicans; however, the assertion made in a recent op-ed column that lawmakers failed to pass a bill to address the issue is simply untrue.

In fact, HB187, which passed both chambers with almost no dissenting votes and was recently signed by Gov. Susana Martinez, is bold and progressive in creating innovative solutions to improve access to dental care.

The Journal editorialized in favor of this approach back in December, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, urban and rural alike, listened.

House Bill 187 is a comprehensive revision of the Dental Health Care Act that takes a multifaceted approach to improve the delivery of and access to oral health care in New Mexico. It expands the scope of dental hygienists, dental assistants and dental training programs to provide care in places and settings that previously experienced significant barriers to receiving dental care.

It also creates a new dental team member, the Community Dental Health Coordinator, who will be a community-based, culturally competent dental worker who can provide some essential emergency and preventive services as well as facilitate care by other dental team providers. The revised act further provides additional pathways for dentists and dental hygienists to be licensed in New Mexico.

These revisions have been developed over the course of a number of years from dedicated work by many New Mexico dentists, dental hygienists and policy makers. They are a responsible and realistic solution, both from the standpoint of safety and cost, to the unique geographic, cultural and fiscal issues that challenge New Mexico communities.

We believe that the tools to serve currently underserved communities, whether rural, urban, ethnic or age-related, can be found in the revised Dental Health Care Act, if these communities will avail themselves of its possibilities and are committed to finding a real and sustainable solution.

The New Mexico Dental Association welcomes dialogue on ways to further remove the barriers that make it difficult for some people to access and afford dental care.

Band-aid solutions, like the dental therapist, really cost more and create a great potential for a lower standard of care to be provided to the underserved residents of our state and very easily can result in second-class citizens in the world of access to care.

Improving Medicaid funding and ending the sales tax on dental services would make dental offices more feasible in more communities, while providing student loan forgiveness or other incentives could attract practitioners to communities in New Mexico with insufficient access.

Dental professionals and policy makers came together to support HB187. Lawmakers deserve credit for passing it, rather than criticism for failing to act on a dubious alternative.

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