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Maine Oral Health Funders Release In-Depth Study of Oral Health Workforce

Maine Oral Health Funders Release In-Depth Study of Oral Health Workforce

Members of the Maine Oral Health Funders, a statewide philanthropy collaborative, today released the results of an in-depth study of the oral health workforce in Maine.  

The study indicates that new license categories of oral health professionals in Maine appear to provide greater access to oral health services, especially uninsured adults, MaineCare-covered children and people living in Maine's rural communities. 

Other key findings of the study include the following:

  • Oral health professionals report that low income children have the greatest unmet need for oral health services, followed by low income adults and seniors;
  • Oral health professionals in Maine practice primarily in urban areas, leaving rural communities less well served;
  • The economic downturn has resulted in decreased volume at dental offices;
  • Lack of dental insurance is a substantial barrier to achieving good oral health;
  • More oral health education with a focus on prevention is needed to help patients understand the relationship between good oral health and overall health; and
  • Many oral health professionals volunteer their time and services to patients without charge in a variety of settings.

Oral health professionals were in agreement on several topics, including the need to better allocate dental resources under MaineCare, such as offering a routine dental benefit to encourage less expensive preventive and early treatment.  The study showed a difference of opinion on the need for new types of oral health providers to be added to the current mix of oral health professionals in Maine.

The study concluded that although Maine has a well-established safety net for oral health services, there is concern about its ability to meet the increasing need for oral health services in a challenging economic environment.  Expanded license categories for oral health professionals - notably independent practice dental hygienists, and registered dental hygienists working under public health supervision -  appear to be a promising approach to promoting access to preventive oral health services for uninsured, low income and rural residents.  In addition current efforts that better integrate oral health care with physical health care, such as From the First Tooth, may improve oral health in young children, though these efforts were not specifically addressed in the study.

The study was completed by the Center for Health Workforce Studies of the School of Public Health at the State University of New York at Albany in December, 2012. It was commissioned by the Maine Oral Health Funders to examine the impact of Maine's oral health workforce on access to oral health services for Maine's underserved populations. Underserved groups include uninsured, low income and rural Mainers. Researchers surveyed the following oral health professionals:  general and specialty dentists, registered dental hygienists (RDHs), RDHs working under public health supervision (PHS), independent practice dental hygienists (IPDHs), and expanded function dental assistants (EFDAs).

An Executive Summary of the report can be accessed on the Maine Health Access Foundation website here. The full report is available here.

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