Poor oral health has severe negative repercussions on overall health, productivity and quality of life. Yet for many communities across America, limited access to oral health services remains a persistent issue. In an effort to assist those working to expand access to oral health services and thereby improve public health, the Network has launched an initiative to investigate and highlight policy options that support the expansion of the oral health workforce.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, in general dentists and the dental workforce are concentrated in urban and suburban areas, and are underrepresented in rural areas. There are over 4000 dental health professional shortage areas, and approximately 10 percent of Americans live within one of them. The first component of the Network's initiative focuses on the scope of practice of dental health professionals, examining whether and how expanding the scope for dental hygienists, dental therapists or others could make access to oral health services available to more people. The Dental Auxiliary Scope of Practice Fact Sheets for 50 states and the District of Columbia provide data on oral health in each state and describe the laws governing the respective services provided by members of the dental workforce.
This brief outlines current concerns for oral health and explores policy options to increase access to oral health care and improve health by expanding the oral health workforce. It is designed to help policy-makers, public health professionals and community members translate proven public health science into public health law and community practice at every level of government.
Fact Sheets for 50 states and the District of Columbia provide data on oral health in each state and describe the laws governing the respective services provided by members of the dental workforce.
There are policy options beyond expanding scope of practice of dental professionals that may also lead to increased access to oral health services and improvements in public health. For children, programs to encourage oral health screenings by pediatricians and providing wider access to school–based sealant services can provide important benefits. And for many underserved populations, changes in Medicaid reimbursement policies coupled with innovative service delivery models are critical means of delivering needed services. The Access to Oral Health Care Science and Law Brief outlines some of the policy options that could lead to increased access to oral health care and improved public health.
The Network has explored in depth the issue of scope of practice for allied dental providers and is prepared to investigate other policy options to improve oral health. If expanding scope of practice is not the focus of your efforts in this area, you are still encouraged to contact your Network Region for assistance on any oral health issue. The Network will monitor requests for assistance in this area and prepare more extensive materials on issues that are raised frequently, present promising outcomes or are particularly challenging from a legal perspective.
Attorneys with the Network are available to provide free technical legal assistance to individuals or organizations interested in exploring legal mechanisms aimed at improving access to needed oral health services.
For legal assistance and support on oral health issues:
You can also call your region to get legal assistance at:
The Network will not share your contact information with external parties without consent.
The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, please consult specific legal counsel. For more information on the type of legal assistance the Network can provide, please see frequently asked questions.