By Dr. Nick Anastassatos
SB366 is moving through the legislative process and as a dentist and a father, I want to make sure our community knows how this could affect us. In short, a newly created Dental Therapist would be allowed to perform extractions and even administer nitrous oxide. To become a dentist, I trained for years and put in thousands of hours to ensure I was able to provide my patients the safest and best care possible. Anyone performing dental procedures should be required to do the same.
Some may say that this issue is about access to care, but that isn’t a sound argument. Nevada ranks 25th in dentists per capita and 96 percent of Nevada children on Medicaid live within 15 minutes of a dentist who can provide care for them. We should be helping those in need of dental treatment get to a fully trained dentist, not pushing them to a lower-tier provider. Nevada should also focus on increasing education about the importance of dental care and empowering families to access the already available care they need.
Rural areas may well have less access to dentists, but SB366 does not limit where Dental Therapists can practice. In fact, when Minnesota’s dental therapy law was proposed ten years ago, it was hailed as the cure-all solution for improving oral health in underserved communities, including for impoverished children and people in rural areas. A decade later, there are only 92 licensed Dental Therapists in Minnesota, with only 11 serving rural areas.
Not only have other dental therapy programs failed to improve patient health, they have been a huge burden to taxpayers. Vermont has applied for millions of dollars in federal subsidies to try to get its dental therapy program off the ground. Wisconsin put a $1.5 million-dollar price tag on a program under consideration in that state.
Would you let a paralegal try your most important case when there was a readily available attorney? No. Should you let a non-dentist perform a “simple” extraction (there is no such thing) when there is a licensed dentist within 15 minutes? Again, no. With plenty of qualified dentists in our state, we can all work together to make sure all patients are served by trained, licensed dentists.
Dr. Nick Anastassatos is a dentist in Reno.