Kansans think big. Big dreams, big ideas and big solutions. But when it comes to strengthening our economy and providing opportunities for future generations, we should think small. Small towns and rural areas of Kansas are a critical part of who we are. In many parts of Kansas, small businesses are the backbone of our communities.
Our dental practices in Great Bend, Hays and Pittsburg are perfect examples. Our small businesses employ 34 people and provide dental care to thousands of Kansans.
And still our businesses can’t keep up with the growing need. Across the state, hundreds of thousands of Kansans lack access to oral health care because a gap in the dental work force leaves 99 of our 105 counties without enough dental providers.
There is a solution, but government regulations are standing in the way.
Legislation proposed by the Kansas Dental Project would permit new dental providers called Registered Dental Practitioners (RDPs) to work in our state. RDPs would allow us to see more patients and create critically needed jobs. Lawmakers can help by passing the RDP legislation, allowing us to hire more Kansans, expand our practices and provide care to more patients.
With RDPs as part of the dental care team, dental hygienists could obtain advanced education and training to provide routine and preventive care like cleanings, fillings and some extractions. They would pass a comprehensive clinical exam and be hired and supervised by dentists, who could then have more time to put their education to work on more complicated procedures. This system has already worked in the medical field between physicians and nurse practitioners and physician assistants. It’s also already succeeding in the dental field in other states.
With RDPs, we could grow our small businesses and see thousands more patients each year. In fact, we estimate that hiring just one RDP would allow each of us to serve more patients by scheduling 2,000 to 3,000 more appointments a year. That’s a win-win for all Kansans.
Strengthening our dental work force strengthens our communities. Communities with strong health care systems, good public schools and easily accessible services attract other small businesses, good employees and new employers.
Small businesses like ours are the economic engine of Kansas and we should encourage their growth, especially when they can provide much needed services to residents of the small towns and communities that have helped make Kansas what it is today.
Mid-level dental providers are already working in other states. How can we attract and keep dental providers in Kansas if we don’t allow them the freedom to run their businesses as they see fit? How will we compete with other states when our potential for growth is stifled? If this legislation isn’t passed, we can’t.
Dr. David Hart, Great Bend
Dr. Melinda Miner, Hays
Dr. Daniel Minnis, Pittsburg