• WisBusiness

Monday, April 25, 2011

'Healthy choices' legislation offers cost-effective way to improve state's oral and overall health


By Steve Stoll
Thousands of children and adults in Wisconsin suffer from untreated dental problems, missing sleep, school and work due to pain and infection. They can’t eat properly or smile, and because oral health is critical to overall health, they risk other problems including heart disease, stroke, diabetes complications and oral cancer. As a general dentist, I’ve had to extract deteriorated teeth from children who were never taught to brush. I’ve diagnosed advanced gum disease in young adults who had never seen a dentist.

There are people who lack basic oral health care in every corner of our state. The Wisconsin Dental Association and its 3,000 members are committed to working with policy leaders to solve this heartbreaking problem, even amid the financial constraints Wisconsin currently faces. With this in mind, the WDA is asking state lawmakers to support legislation that will allow more Wisconsin residents to receive dental care – without an added burden to taxpayers.

The legislation is part of WDA’s “Healthy Choices” plan to reduce barriers to dental care.

In particular, the plan advocates for two small changes to the Wisconsin Dental Practice Act. First, it updates the state’s definition of dentistry to the American Dental Association definition, which clarifies that dentists can offer dental treatments and services based on the most recent scientific and technological advances. Wisconsinites would benefit from oral health care advancements and improved quality of care.

Second, the plan would allow dentists to delegate more duties – such as finishing fillings and removing sutures – to educated, trained and licensed dental hygienists and assistants with the close supervision of an on-site dentist. Requiring the supervision of a dentist maintains safety and provides patients with a vital link to routine and comprehensive dental care. Expanding delegated duties would help Wisconsin dentists and their staff care for more patients in a cost-effective and more efficient manner.

In addition, WDA also supports legislation that would prohibit dental benefit plans from setting fees for services not covered by the plan. To date, 21 states have passed similar legislation, allowing dentists and patients to make treatment decisions without third-party interference.

A healthy state is attractive to new businesses, jobs and economic growth. Dentists want to help, and we urge legislators to join us in our efforts to break down barriers to dental care for Wisconsin residents. Working together to support the WDA’s “Healthy Choices” plan – and without spending more tax money – we can help improve residents’ health and the health of our state.

-- Dr. Stoll, a practicing general dentist in Neenah, is president-elect of the Wisconsin Dental Association. For more information on the WDA, visit http://www.WDA.org. You can also find WDA on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube.

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