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Groups look at ways to expand dental care

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FARGO — Groups supporting different methods for expanding North Dakota dental care testified at a hearing Thursday in Fargo.

One camp supports a new dental care model utilizing licensed and dentist-supervised, midlevel therapists.

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The other group, consisting primarily of North Dakota dentists, says there are more than enough dentists, hygienists and dental assistants to serve the state’s dental needs via a revamped delivery model.

Dr. Brent Holman, a Fargo pediatric dentist, endorses collaborative partnerships that, with adequate funding, could provide mobile dental teams to serve communities across North Dakota.

“We see this not just as a study but also a public health initiative,” Holman said. “We would love to have the committee join us in endorsing this model that we are talking about.”

Comprehensive case management and preventative dentistry education programs are also needed, said Dr. Rob Lauff of Mayville.

“That’s paramount. But you have to have adequate funding,” he said.

Hiring Minnesota’s first dental therapist allowed Dr. John Powers to practice at higher levels including implant and aesthetic dentistry, he said.

Dental therapists do not pose a threat to private practice, the Montevideo, Minn., dentist said.

“There’s always going to be resistance to a new situation and new practice modality,” Powers said.

“Everybody wants to do what’s right here,” said Sen. Judy Lee, who, along with members of the North Dakota Interim Legislative Health Services Committee, conducted Thursday’s hearing.

“A lot of fronts need to come together to make this work,” said Colleen Brickle, who helped develop Minnesota’s dental therapy program.

Early findings in Minnesota show that dental therapy is working and more people are being served, said Brickle, dean of health services at Normandale Community College, one of two state schools offering dental therapy curriculums.

Lee said at least two more meetings will be held to discuss dental service concerns.

“We recognize the challenge. It’s silly not to look at all the options we might have,” Lee said. “This is a partnership, and I want dentists to be part of this work.”

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