Opinion Columns & Blogs

Jason Wesco, Dave Sanford: Support dental practitioners

As CEOs of community health centers, we are responsible for thinking long term about what’s best for our patients and our communities. Among the goals we’ve set our sights on: increasing the number of patients we serve to make sure all Kansans have the opportunity to be healthy and thrive, fulfilling our missions of providing care to people in need, and continuing to be anchors in our communities by providing local jobs.

The top priority of our centers is providing high-quality care to the more than 10,000 Kansas City-area residents and 29,000 Wichita-area residents who seek care from us each year. But we also play an important role in strengthening our local economies, as we employ 200 people.

Like most health centers, we have limited resources provided largely through public funding and are always seeking to do more with less. We struggle to keep up with the growing need for care, especially dental care. In addition to being stretched financially, we are also limited by the fact that we can’t hire enough dental providers to meet demand.

Mid-level dental providers called registered dental practitioners would allow us to see more patients, make better use of public dollars and create critically needed jobs. RDPs also would enable us to do more with less, because adding an RDP to the dental team would cost about 25 percent less than care provided by a dentist. Put another way, that’s a 25 percent increase in the effective use of state dollars.

RDPs would allow dental hygienists to learn new skills and provide routine and preventive care. They would be hired and supervised by dentists, who could then have more time to put their education to work on more complicated procedures.

This system already works in the medical field. In fact, without mid-level providers such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners, we wouldn’t be able to serve nearly as many patients as we do now. We believe RDPs would be just as effective for dental care.

Adding RDPs to the dental team also would add local jobs. We anticipate that by adding two RDPs, we would add five more support jobs. With four or five RDPs, we could add 12 jobs in our dental clinics.

Expanding the dental teams with RDPs who can practice outside the walls of our clinics – still under the general supervision of a dentist – would allow us to see thousands more patients each year, reaching children in schools, seniors in nursing homes and others in community settings.

Bringing RDPs to Kansas would be a smart move, and we encourage other community leaders to speak up in support.