December 21, 2001

Bill to Increase Number of Dentists and Improve Access to Dental Care Signed by Governor Davis

San Diego's community health centers are all smiles with the recent news from Sacramento that a bill designed to relax restrictions for licensed out-of-state dentists seeking work in California has been signed by the Governor.

The passage of AB 1428 means that more licensed out-of-state dentists will be able to practice in California, and it is hoped that community health centers, in desperate need of experienced dental practitioners, will benefit greatly from the fresh supply.

The Council of Community Clinics (CCC), a local, non-profit health care consortium that provides much needed primary care services to medically underserved populations, has acknowledged the negative impacts resulting from the shortfall of licensed dental practitioners for some time now. The CCC believes the removal of barriers for qualified out- of-state dentists will significantly bolster its defense against a rising oral health epidemic now afflicting its high risk communities.

The bill will become yet another thread in reinforcing San Diego's health care safety net, which attempts to fill the gaps in health care created by economic disparities in culturally and ethnically diverse populations by offering high quality, low cost services to those who can't otherwise afford them. It is seen as an expected boost to an already burdened community health care system that struggles under the weight of rising operational costs, shrinking budgets, increasing numbers of patients, and a limited number of culturally and linguistically diverse health care practitioners.

"Oral health is an essential component of overall good health," explained Mickie Beyer, CCC's Chief Executive Officer. "The signing of this bill greatly encourages us in our hopes and desires to put licensed dental practitioners where they are needed the most — in community health centers. By attracting more qualified dental practitioners, we are simultaneously improving the overall care and well-being of many of our patients."

With dental services among the least available for California's 6.8 million uninsured, the bill is a welcome response to the current scarcity of dental services particularly in rural and medically underserved communities like San Diego, and will provide increased access to quality dental care, Beyer said. According to statistics compiled by the University of California - San Francisco Center for Health Workforce Studies, there is only one dentist for every 1,725 Californians and the situation is only expected to worsen over the next decade.

In addition to increasing the number of licensed dentists and dental practitioners at community health centers, the CCC also advocates several methods of enhancing oral health through its providers. These include an oral exam as part of a general physical, advising patients about diet and tobacco use, and referring patients to oral health practitioners for care before receiving medical treatments like chemotherapy and radiation that can damage oral tissues.

"Our community health centers pride themselves on meeting the health needs of the uninsured, but without qualified dentists, it becomes an overwhelming task to provide comprehensive oral health services to all who have need. Beyer said. "Now, with more licensed dentists available to provide services to community health center patients, we will definitely be able to narrow the gap.

The Council of Community Clinics represents, advocates and supports community health center members in their efforts to provide access to quality, low cost health care services for low income and uninsured persons. It does so through a network of 20 healthcare corporations operating more than 60 primary care sites throughout San Diego and Imperial County. For additional information, contact the CCC at 1-800-640-1662.

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