By Jonathan Shorman
January 21, 2015

Plans to cut into Kansas’ dentist shortage through the use of medical professionals who fall short of dentists but above hygienists once again faces stiff opposition, but advocates continue to push forward.

Registered dental practitioners would be able to perform basic services such as fillings, crowns and some tooth extractions. Supporters argue the mid-level practitioners could cut costs, but opponents charge the idea would endanger patients.

Ninety-nine Kansas counties have some form of dental-related health professional shortage, according to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. Especially in rural areas, shortages can mean longer drives for patients or more difficulty in getting appointments.

Kevin Nakagaki, a dentist in St. Paul, Minn., spent Wednesday in the Kansas Statehouse as part of Kansas Dental Project’s advocacy day. The project strongly supports the creation of registered dental practitioners and has unsuccessfully championed legislation in previous years.

Minnesota began licensing dental practitioners in 2011 after legislation passed in 2009. Minnesota, along with Alaska, were the first states to implement the practitioner concept. Nakagaki has been using registered dental practitioners in his practice for two years.

“There’s very defined procedures they can do, and it’s not as broad as what a dentist can do. But it takes the burden off the dentist to be doing the very straightforward procedures, so the dentist can concentrate on more complex procedures,” Nakagaki said.

Both Fort Hays State University and Wichita State University have supported the creation of dental practitioner programs.

The Kansas Dental Association opposes the measure, however. Director Kevin Robertson argues the legislation would authorize registered dental practitioners to perform several procedures that are invasive, and he expressed concerns training requirements wouldn’t be sufficient.

Robertson also disputed the notion of a dental shortage in the state. The state has added more than 100 dentists in past few years, he said, adding that the number of dentists has grown from about 1,400 to a little more than 1,500.

Nakagaki said nurse practitioners and physicians assistants were accepted in the health care industry. But Robertson said the situation isn’t equivalent to registered dental practitioners.

“If you go to a nurse practitioner or a (physicians assistant) generally you’re going in for a diagnosis, and you’ll receive a prescription when you leave,” Robertson said, adding that in the case of a dental practitioner you will almost always have a procedure performed.

Read more from The Topeka Capital-Journal.