Regents take a pass for now on mid-level dental practitioner issue

Higher ed officials say they'll wait to see what Legislature does before considering a new training program

0 | Legislature, Oral Health

— The Kansas Board of Regents will not consider a proposal from Fort Hays State University to create a new training program for mid-level dental practitioners until the Kansas Legislature decides whether it wants to authorize licensing for the new category of dental worker.

Andy Tompkins, chief executive of the state's higher education governing board, today said the panel's governance committee had decided to wait and see what the Kansas Legislature would do before taking up the issue.

A coalition of consumer and health advocates have been pushing for the new type of dental technician in each of the past two legislative sessions. They say the practitioners would help improve access to dental care and help mitigate the shortage of dentists, particularly in rural and other underserved areas. According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, more than a dozen of the state's 105 counties have no dentist. Mid-level dental workers already are licensed in two other rural states, Alaska and Minnesota, and also are common in many other countries.

But the legislative proposals have been fought by the Kansas Dental Association, a group that represents about 75 percent of the state's dentists. The association has argued that the proposals went too far by proposing that the practitioners be allowed to perform procedures which are, by definition, considered surgery.

The regents committee, which among others includes the full board's chair and vice-chair, last month had agreed the topic should at least be discussed by the full Regents board, probably before the Legislature convened in January, though they did not set a date for when it would be on the agenda. The full board meets monthly.

But Tompkins said the committee members had second thoughts given the ongoing controversy over the issue and decided "we can discuss this after the Legislature takes it up."

Ed Hammond, president of Fort Hays State, in 2011 told a legislative panel that the university was prepared to launch a program to train the mid-level technicians as soon as they could be licensed. He said he was confident he could raise enough private dollars to launch the program.

About 60 community organizers from eight states, including Kansas, met last week in Lawrence to discuss how they could collaborate on advancing licensing proposals in their respective states.

Kansas supporters of the idea have said they will ask the 2013 Legislature to consider approving mid-level dental practice.

Kevin Robertson, executive director of the Kansas Dental Association, has said his members will continue to fight the proposal unless it is more limited than the ones offered in the past two legislative sessions.

The bills proposed earlier would have allowed the technicians to perform about 30 routine procedures, including taking X-rays, extracting baby teeth and administering local anesthetic. A dentist would be required to supervise the work but wouldn't necessarily have to be on the same premises.

The dental association has argued that routine procedures can quickly turn dangerous and patients could be put at risk.

Supporters of licensing say studies have shown that the mid-level technicians deliver services as safely as dentists.

The licensing proposal has been supported by the Kansas Health Foundation, which is a major funder of the Kansas Health Institute.

Related coverage: Kansas' Oral Health Care Provider Shortage

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Bill to license mid-level dental providers introduced (1/29/13)
Regents will hear proposal to train mid-level dental practitioners (10/17/12)
Dentist shortage proposal not funded in Regents' recommended budget (9/20/12)
Report questions economic viability of mid-level dental providers (7/26/12)
Task force recommends building state's first dental school (6/21/12)
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