Brownback signs bill to help fill Kansas dentist shortage

Gov. Sam Brownback has signed into law a bill that’s intended to help the state cope with a dentist shortage but critics say doesn’t go far enough.

The law expands the ability of dental hygienists to treat tooth decay to help deal with the fact that 93 Kansas counties don’t have enough dentists to serve their residents and 13 others don’t even have a dentist.

The bill is a scaled down approach compared to another proposal that would have created a midlevel provider called a registered dental therapist who could perform some of the duties now handled by dentists, including filling cavities and pulling teeth.

Other states have considered similar bills, but only Alaska and Minnesota have comparable laws.

But the Legislature coalesced around the bill supported by dental industry, which said it feared that the other proposal would put dental patients at risk by giving hygienists the ability to provide types of oral treatment best left to dentists.

The new law allows dental hygienists to pull the loosest baby teeth and to scrape away tooth decay with a hand instrument. They would only be allowed to provide temporary fillings. They would also only be allowed to serve the poor, prisoners and elderly patients who live in residential centers among others.

Kansas does not have a dental school. But the bill also requires the Board of Regents to add more slots for Kansas residents at the University of Missouri-Kansas City dental school. Those students would have to work in underserved areas of Kansas for at least four years after graduation.

The bill also creates a special license for retired dentists who want to donate their time to treat patients who are poor or who live in areas where there aren’t enough dentists.