Affordable, accessible dental care is an essential component of overall health. Yet people with low incomes struggle to access dental care—a problem made worse by COVID-19. Even when insured through state-funded insurance like Apple Health (Washington state’s version of Medicaid), Washingtonians find that dentists often reject their insurance due to its low reimbursement rates.

Furthermore, our state has an acute oral health provider shortage. Thirty-seven out of 39 counties in the state report a shortage of dental professionals required to meet local needs. The pandemic is straining our state’s oral healthcare system, leaving thousands of Washingtonians without access to essential healthcare to stay well and combat COVID-19. When Washingtonians do not have access to preventative oral healthcare, many have no other choice but to turn to expensive emergency room settings to receive dental relief, further straining limited hospital capacity.

Photo of Lily

Lily, a community member in Seattle, knows firsthand how difficult it is to receive dental care when living on a low income. As she shared in an interview, she was unable to access routine dental care for several years. Read the rest of Lily’s interview here.

What We’re Doing About It

Poverty Action supports boosting access to affordable and comprehensive dental care through the expansion of dental therapy.

Illustrated graphic: dentist, dental assistant, community dental health coordinator, dental therapist, hygienist

Dental therapists are dental care professionals who can provide high-quality, preventative oral health care for a lower cost. They work in dental offices under the supervision of licensed dentists. Their efficacy and critical role in expanding access to dental care is already proven thanks to Senate Bill 5079, which passed in 2017 and allows dental therapists to practice in tribal communities across the state.

In 2021, we are advocating to expand dental therapy across Washington state.