Thank you for the article shining a light on the No. 1 health-access problem for low-income individuals: dental care [“State dentists lobby is blocking potential source of low-cost care,” Page One, Jan. 4].
As a dentist at Neighborcare Health, the largest nonprofit community health center in Seattle, I see every day the suffering that occurs due to foregone dental care. Increasing access should be a priority to improve lives and lower the cost of care.
Yes, dental therapists could certainly help, just as physician assistants and nurse practitioners have eased the shortage of primary-care physicians. But they are not a cure-all. Significantly improving dental access for the most vulnerable requires multiple strategies including reimbursement, investment in clinic facilities and equipment, new care models and public awareness. Community health centers are also integral in this effort and are expanding in response to the community need. Over the next year, Neighborcare Health is doubling its capacity to 71 chairs at seven locations in Seattle to serve an additional 10,000 dental patients.
Most important, it’s time to stop viewing dental care as a nonessential service and work together for solutions that create health equity and access for all.
Sarah Vander Beek, Seattle, chief dental officer at Neighborcare Health