ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — Over eight million New Yorkers receive Medicaid benefits, but their dental coverage is limited. State lawmakers are looking to bridge the gap between providers and patients. In New York, Medicaid is required to provide dental benefits to children, but states choose what’s covered for adults. 

Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner told Capitol Correspondent Amal Tlaige, about a year ago, many of her constituents reached out to her about the lack of dental care for Medicaid patients. That’s why she proposed a bill to allow for the practice of dental therapy in New York. A measure that experts say has been helpful in states like Minnesota. “And so and what the bill does is it creates new professional credentials called dental therapists, and the dental therapists have a scope of practice that requires them to work under the direct supervision of a dentist,” said Woerner.

Dental therapists are mid level practitioners who have completed a dental therapy program; their education requirements vary by state. They provide dental evaluations, preventative and restorative care and minor surgeries. “So dental therapists primarily tend to work in underserved areas,” said Theekshana Fernando, research scientist at the Oral Health Research Center at UALBANY. He said in 2022, they conducted a study including dental therapists in every day practice. 

“What we found was that patients were very satisfied with having a dental therapist deliver care… shorter waiting times, dental therapists allowed patients to have more of their oral health needs met in a single visit, and it also improved the sense of having a regular provider for patients,” he said.

While most states provide at least emergency dental services for adults, less than half of the states provide comprehensive dental care. The Assemblywoman said providing better coverage is a multi-dimensional problem that will require multiple solutions. “Just doing dental therapy isn’t going to completely solve the problem. You know we need more fellowships in dentistry, we need them in rural communities…”

Capitol Correspondent Amal Tlaige, asked the Department of Health why Medicaid coverage was so limited. In a a statement they said: The department intends to build on the enacted budget investments, and continue promoting access to high-quality oral health services for all members throughout the state.