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Our View: Maine should get creative in solving dentist shortage

The addition of dental protection to MaineCare advantages already is altering lives for the people who find themselves discovering care after years of getting to place it off.

And it’ll do the identical for tens of hundreds of others too — as soon as Maine solves an issue vexing so many rural states.

There weren’t sufficient dentists, hygienists and different dental well being professionals within the state earlier than COVID, and the pandemic didn’t assist issues. Because the Press Herald reported this week, Maine had simply 510 dentists practising in 2021, the most recent yr statistics had been accessible, down from 590 in 2019.

According to the U.S. Division of Well being and Human Providers, greater than 370,000 Mainers stay in areas with dental supplier shortages. Pew Charitable Trusts says 15 of 16 counties have a dentist scarcity.

Neighborhood Dental, which has six places of work in Maine, introduced final week that due to an lack of ability to fill hygienist positions, it will be closing two places of work in underserved areas, Rumford and Monson.

No surprise lots of the greater than 220,000 residents who turned eligible for MaineCare dental advantages in July are having bother getting an appointment. Not solely are there fewer dentists who at the moment are making an attempt to compensate for care missed through the pandemic, lots of them are cautious about taking Medicaid sufferers, for whom providers are reimbursed at solely a two-thirds price.

Maine just isn’t alone on this predicament. Significantly in rural areas, dental care is tough to search out, the results of the low reimbursement charges and the need of dental college graduates to pay again the a whole bunch of hundreds of {dollars} in debt they usually incur to get a level.

It’s seemingly extra suppliers will be capable of tackle MaineCare sufferers as time goes on. However different avenues should be explored.

Options are being examined out right here and there. Maine provides mortgage forgiveness, nevertheless it could possibly be extra strong. College of New England’s dental college, the one one within the state, will end up extra grads subsequent yr than this yr in an effort to extend suppliers. The varsity additionally has fourth-year college students serve a rotation in a rural or in any other case underserved space, the place they supply care and perhaps take into consideration establishing a follow afterward.

The reply isn’t solely extra dentists, nonetheless. Maine will help relieve its scarcity by serving to sufferers use the providers accessible extra effectively.

State lawmakers in 2014 licensed dental therapists to carry out each preventative and routine restorative care. Not solely does that immediately create extra suppliers who can do the work, nevertheless it additionally frees up dentists to carry out extra complicated procedures.

This mannequin can be utilized elsewhere. As an example, lots of people who at the moment are not receiving care could possibly be served by hygienists consulting with a dentist over telemedicine.

Maine did the suitable factor by increasing dental protection to its poorest residents. It eliminated an enormous barrier to well being care that was effecting tens of hundreds of residents.

Given the complexity, and shortfalls, of our well being care system, it’s no shock that extra limitations exist.

Now not less than, the Legislature and the following governor is aware of what these limitations are, and what they should do to get previous them.



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