Affordable, accessible dental care is an essential component to overall health. Yet for far too many Washingtonians, routine and timely access to dental care is hard to obtain.

Low income communities, communities of color, and rural communities have disproportionately low access to dental care. Even when insured through state-funded insurance like Apple Health (Washington’s state version of Medicaid), Washingtonians still find that dentists often reject their insurance due to its low reimbursement rates. Regardless of the type of insurance, the high cost of dental care makes it inaccessibly expensive, and many low-income Washingtonians are unable to get the routine, preventative oral health care they need, and only receive care when they are suddenly faced with a dental emergency.

Kristen, a mom and current student at UW Law, knows firsthand how difficult it is to receive dental care as a low-income individual. As she shared in an interview, she lived in pain for three years as she gathered the funds for the dental care she needed. Read the rest of Kristen’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.

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 2020, we are advocating for House Bill 1317, which would allow dental therapists to practice in all communities in Washington state under the supervision of a licensed dentist. HB 1317 would expand SB 5079 and allow dental therapists to provide affordable, high-quality dental care across the state.