KHI News Service

Summit to focus on training plan for mid-level dental practitioners

Fort Hays State prepares to launch program, pending legislative approval

By Phil Cauthon | November 29, 2011

Supporters of using "registered dental practitioners" to help meet Kansans' oral health needs are scheduled to meet Wednesday at Fort Hays State University to discuss a curriculum for training the technicians.

State law doesn't allow the practitioners to be licensed, which means they can't work in Kansas. Seven national experts plan to meet with members of a Kansas coalition that is trying to persuade policymakers to allow the mid-level caregivers to be licensed, despite opposition from the Kansas Dental Association.

At the Registered Dental Practitioner Curriculum Summit, national experts in curriculum development will meet with 13 Kansas proponents of licensing such technicians.

The event is not open to the public.

Last month, Fort Hays State officials told a legislative committee that they were prepared to launch a degree program to train the dental practitioners, if state officials would sanction their licensing.

Lawmakers posed several questions — including how the technicians would be trained — that the summit is intended to address, said Christie Appelhanz, spokeswoman for Kansas Action for Children, a Topeka-based advocacy group that helped organize the summit.

"We now have a curriculum that's been developed and has been reviewed by dentists across the country and now will be reviewed at the summit. It answers some of the questions that the Legislature raised. So I am more optimistic than we were last year," that legislators will agree to change Kansas law, Appelhanz said.

Last year, bills were introduced in the Kansas House and Senate to sanction registered dental practitioners, who essentially are dental hygienists with additional training able to perform a number of routine procedures that currently only dentists are allowed to perform.

Proponents of the bills argued that licensing the practitioners would help address a shortage of dentists — especially in rural Kansas — and improve access to care for the poor and uninsured.

The bills met stiff opposition from the Kansas Dental Association, an organization that represents many of the state's dentists. Spokesmen said allowing the midlevel providers to work could endanger the public because they aren't as well trained as dentists. They also said creating a new class of technician would do little to encourage low-income adults and children to take better care of their teeth.

Kevin Robertson, the association's executive director, said whatever curriculum might come out of the summit wouldn't change his organization's concerns about the proposed legislation.

"Our main concern are the procedures that they're allowed to do in those bills. The fact that Fort Hays State has put forth a program, that doesn't really change anything," Robertson said.

Only dentists are sufficiently trained to safely perform tooth extractions, fillings and other surgical procedures, he said.

"So, it's perhaps not surprising that we weren't invited" to the summit, he said.

The proposed legislation would require that the technicians work under a dentist's supervision. Alaska and Minnesota are the only two states that have sanctioned a form of midlevel dental provider. Kansas is one of 15 states with efforts underway to do so, Appelhanz said.

Related coverage: Kansas' Oral Health Care Provider Shortage

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Bill to license mid-level dental providers introduced (1/29/13)
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