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Ohioans for Dental Equity Launches New Coalition

Ohioans for Dental Equity Outline Cost-Effective, Evidence-Based Response to Address Oral Health Deficiencies, Announce New Coalition

During COVID-19, Children’s Dental Health Month and Black History Month, Oral Health Leaders Highlight Striking Dental Health Disparities in Ohio

COLUMBUS, OH -- Ohioans for Dental Equity announced the launch of a coalition, discussed the urgency of addressing oral health disparities, and outlined a cost-effective, evidence-based response to help address oral health deficiencies in Ohio.

The coalition, made up of dozens of community based and statewide advocacy organizations, is working to shine a light on the disparities and inequities related to oral health in Ohio. Oral health is a gateway to the rest of the body’s health; it has been overlooked for far too long, disproportionately harming racial minorities, children of low-income families, and people living in rural communities, among other at-risk groups.

“COVID has shined a light on the health disparities that have been at play for many years” said David Mayhoor, Executive Director, Ohio Public Health Association (OPHA). “We are now at a place where we can use this energy to make progress on achieving dental equity. Too many Ohioans cannot get affordable dental care in their communities, and the problem is getting worse. They live in pain, they miss school, they miss work, and in extreme cases, develop life threatening infections.”

The speakers also outlined a cost-effective, evidence-based response involving dental therapists to help address oral health deficiencies in Ohio. Twelve states, but not yet Ohio, have passed legislation authorizing dental therapy under a similar model as nurse practitioners.

“We need to modernize the dental care workforce,” said David Mayhoor. “Dental therapists are making it easier for children and families in underserved areas to get access to high quality, affordable dental care where they live. We should take a cue from the medical care system, where Ohio has done a good job of modernizing our laws and removing restrictive regulations so that nurse practitioners, advanced practice nurses, and physicians assistants can provide needed care to more people. We need to do the same for dental care.”

Edward Sterling -- former Director, Nisonger Center Dental Program; Emeritus Associate Professor, OSU College of Dentistry; and Board Certified Pediatric Dentist -- spoke about the importance of dental care for children. Referencing a February 2021 study from The Journal of the American Dental Association, he said, “Dental care is the number one unmet health care need during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the risk is even higher for children whose parents lost a job or income.”

“A dental therapist would be an asset to provide the care and guidance needed. Children don’t need anything else stacked against them, especially now,” continued Sterling.

“Ohio has areas of dentist shortage, especially in communities that are already experiencing increased poverty and where poorer health outcomes already exist,” said Carla Hicks, a Registered Nurse and Co-Lead of OPHA's Health and Equity in All Policies Committee. “Advanced practice registered nurses are integral providers of health care. The dental therapists can provide the same type of expansion of dental care and improve the state of oral care across Ohio. The need is real, the time is now.”

“Both urban and rural populations have a rationing of care. For example, Defiance County has not one dentist who will take a Medicaid patient; the eastside of Toledo has no dental offices except for our small office that opened in August,” said Janis Sunderhaus, CEO, Health Partners of Western Ohio. “The only way to provide the oral care our patients need is to expand the workforce. It has been done in the medical field, showing quality of care can be maintained.”

Sunderhaus pointed to a similar situation in 2006, when Health Partners of Western Ohio became the first FQHC in Ohio to hire nurse practitioners to address increasing demand.

“We provided good care, set up good protocols, we made sure that we had reporting systems in place, we tracked outcomes,” continued Sunderhaus. “What we found was that by expanding our workforce, we had better satisfaction among our physicians, we were able to target the needs of our patients, and we were able to expand the number of people we were able to take care of.”

Today Sunderhaus’ workforce on the medical side serves more than 47,000 patients with a staff including three medical doctors, 30 nurse practitioners and physicians assistants.

Lawrence Hill wrapped up the event by stating, “We know that dental therapists increase access to care, decrease waiting times for appointments, decrease travel time for people getting to care. If we don’t do something about this in Ohio, then in effect what we’re doing is depriving thousands of underserved Ohioans from being able to get out of pain, to be able to prevent disease, and to have healthy lives.” Members of the coalition include statewide groups such as Ohio Headstart Association, Coalition On Housing and Homelessness in Ohio, Ohio Foodbank Association, and Ohio Council of Behavioral Health and Family Service Providers, and local service providers like Health Partners of Western Ohio (Lima), Shawnee Mental Health (Portsmouth), Washington-Morgan Community Action Program (Marietta), and Clintonville Resource Center (Columbus), as well as leaders in the dental health field.

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