House Bill H. 1916 - An Act to improve oral health for all Massachusetts residents

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Raj Gandhi
Raj Gandhi signed this petition

The Problem:
People with disabilities face far too many barriers to receiving adequate oral health care. For a variety of reasons, people with disabilities do not see the dentist often enough and when they do see the dentist it can be a distressing experience. One of the primary reasons this is happening is because general dentists are not receiving appropriate training in their dental education to prepare them to treat people with disabilities. A Michigan survey of dentists found that nearly 3 out of 4 dentists felt that their dental school did not prepare them for treating people with disabilities (Byrappagari). All residents of Massachusetts deserve access to proper dental care and it is our responsibility to make sure of it. 

The Solution: House Bill 1916! This act will create the position of a dental therapist. This dental therapist will be a licensed dental care provider with a Master's degree in the field of study and under the supervision of a licensed dentist. Dental therapists will be trained specifically in treating patients that are under-served, including patients with developmental disabilities. They will be authorized to provide treatment outside of the office and will be allowed to prescribe medications within their scope of practice. Dental therapists will bring adequate oral health care directly to those who need it most, but have the largest barriers to it. Although further measures must be taken to completely solve the root of this problem, this bill serves as a huge step in the right direction and it is crucial that it is passed as soon as possible. 

I started this petition because...
I have been a part of the Boltwood Project at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst since I began studying at the school in 2016. Through this service-learning group, I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend every Monday evening with residents of an assisted living center for people with intellectual disabilities. The relationships I have developed with the residents here over the past three years are special. Throughout these three years, I have heard a variety of stories regarding their experiences with dealing with doctors and dentists. Sadly, a lot of these experiences are either unpleasant or nonexistent. One of the elderly residents shared they have not seen a dentist in over a decade. This same resident is missing most of their teeth and would benefit greatly from seeing a dentist regularly, as their communication skills are compromised by the loss of their teeth. Another resident shared how difficult it was to leave their home to see a dentist, as they use a wheelchair and the pavement surrounding the assisted living center is not maintained appropriately for wheelchair use. The same resident explained last time they went to the dentist they fell out of their wheel chair and hurt themselves, leading to a trip to the doctor's office instead. The residents of this assisted living center are equally deserving of accessible dental care as everyone else in our community. This bill is a start to giving people with disabilities accessible dental care that they need and deserve. 

References: 

Byrappagari, D. (2018). Oral health care for patients with developmental disabilities: A survey of Michigan general dentists. Special Care in Dentistry. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.silk.library.umass.edu/doi/full/10.1111/scd.12303