State dental association opposed to dental therapists

Bracken Killpack’s recent guest commentary gets facts wrong and invents conspiracy theories (“Policy debates needs sunshine, not corporate sugar,” The Herald, Feb. 20). We would like to tell the truth.

Too many people in Washington — most acutely in communities of color — can’t get dental care. That’s why our organizations have been working on oral health for decades, from restoring dental benefits for adults on Medicaid to expanding community water fluoridation to authorizing dental therapists. Dental therapists are licensed professionals who provide routine care, like fillings and exams, under the supervision of a dentist. These providers have been working in the U.S. for two decades and with Washington’s tribal communities for six years. Evidence shows they provide high-quality treatment and help more people get care.

But Bracken and the Washington State Dental Association (WSDA) aren’t interested in facts. We know because we, along with Bracken and 15 other stakeholders and policymakers, participated in a 2021 taskforce on dental therapy, hearing testimony and research from dentists and providers, academics and patients. Despite Bracken’s resistance, the taskforce overwhelmingly recommended the legislature allow dental therapists to practice statewide.

Dentists in Washington already supervise and work alongside dental therapists and, starting this fall, dentists will begin educating dental therapists at the new dental therapy program at Skagit Valley College. However, Bracken and the WSDA, speaking for the most conservative and change-resistant dentists, continue to stop good policy with their baseless fears. It’s time to confront the truth: Our current dental system is failing low-income Washingtonians and Washingtonians of color. Authorizing dental therapists statewide will help make care accessible.

Marcy Bowers

Statewide Poverty Action Network

Stephan Blanford

Children’s Alliance

Seattle

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