Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Morning Drill: July 18, 2012



A Minnesota dental therapist checks a patient's teeth

Good Wednesday morning!

On to today's dentistry and health headlines:

Dental therapists do some of what dentists do in Minnesota, Alaska

Laura Dvorak had never heard even heard of a dental therapist until she showed up at a clinic in St. Paul, Minn., to get three cavities filled.

But after spending more than an hour with Crystal Ann Baker, a newly hired dental therapist at HealthPartners' Midway Clinic, Dvorak says she's a fan.

"I was very satisfied with her work and her bedside manner and her training," said Dvorak, 35. "If you hadn't told me she wasn't a dentist, I would have assumed she was."

Dental therapists span the divide between the hygienist and the dentist, similar to the way a nurse practitioner or physician assistant works in a medical setting. They practice under a dentist's supervision and are trained to fill cavities, place crowns, give local anesthesia and, in some cases, pull teeth.

A year after the first cohort of dental therapists began practicing in Minnesota, the new and controversial breed of dental worker is showing early signs of acceptance.

"We're kind of setting the model," said Baker, who was hired by HealthPartners in March. "There's still a lot of resistance. Not because people are worried that we're ill-qualified; it's more about how do we incorporate this new profession into our practice?"

While Minnesota has licensed just 15 dental therapists, their arrival comes at a time of growing need. Under the federal health care law, as many as 5 million more children will be covered by insurance in 2014, and nationwide attention is turning to dental therapists as one way to help disadvantaged people get dental care at a lower cost.

Alaska became the first state to use dental therapists in 2005, but their work was established under federal law and remains limited to native villages. Minnesota is the only state to license dental therapists, under a 2009 law.

HealthPartners, one of the state's largest health plans, operates 16 dental clinics. It cares for the largest number of patients enrolled in state programs, the target population for dental therapists.

Dentist’s 8,000 patients may never see any compensation from possible lawsuits

Calls are still pouring into the Colorado Health Department’s hotline, from some of Dr. Stephen Stein’s 8,000 patients who fear he may have exposed them to deadly diseases.

Dr. Stein is accused of reusing dirty needles and syringes over and over again. Doctors say the unsanitary practice could spread blood born diseases like HIV and hepatitis.

But one question the health department’s call center can’t answer is a legal one:  can Dr. Stein’s patients sue him for damages?

Anderson, Hemmat and Levine Attorney, Ethan McQuinn told us, “Yes, they can file a lawsuit.”

McQuinn said all 8,000 of Stein’s patients could sue for emotional distress, and you test positive for HIV or hepatitis B or C, you should be entitled to other damages.

But he said, “most likely it’s not going to be enough money to compensate the amount of people who’ve been affected.”

McQuinn said Colorado has caps on how much money you can get from a malpractice case. And because there are potentially thousands of defendants, the money would have to be split up.

McQuinn also told us in order to win a lawsuit, patients would have to prove they were infected in Stein’s office, “that could be something very difficult to prove,” he said.

Cost, Not Fear, Keeps More People From Dentist

Cost is a bigger factor than fear when it's time to visit the dentist, a new government report shows.

The national survey on oral health shows 4 out of 10 adults in the U.S. say cost is the main reason they don't visit the dentist with an oral health problem like a toothache or loose teeth "in the past six months."

Fear was the motivating factor to forgo the dentist for only 1 in 10 adults when they had an oral health problem.

Researchers say the results suggest cost and lack of dental coverage is a major factor influencing oral health in the U.S.

Overall, the study shows about three-quarters of adults aged 18-64 in 2008 had very good or good oral health, 17% had fair, and 7% had poor.

People with Medicaid were almost five times as likely as adults with private health insurance to have poor oral health.

Jupiter dentist, runner joins rare club: a marathon in all 50 states

For many people, running a marathon once and finishing the 26-mile, 385-yard distance would be enough of an accomplishment.

But Shelby Trail has run 53 marathons, including one in every state. Along the way, she joined the 50 States Marathon Club, a fellowship of about 3,000 runners who meet up at the various races and support each other’s progress toward the goal.

The Jupiter dentist finally completed the task in April at the Big Sur International Marathon in Monterey, Calif.

“That race probably is my favorite marathon since it was my 50th,” Trail said. “I chose that race purposefully because of the breathtaking scenery. They shut down the highway for six hours and you run along the ocean. The views were spectacular.”

Trail said she first started running 14 years ago “as a way to keep my sanity and help me deal with stress.”

Enjoy your morning!

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