Fort Hays State prepares to lead the way in educating new dental health professionals

NOTE TO EDITORS: Please consider using this guest column from FHSU President Edward H. Hammond on a topic that has become of great interest to Kansans.


The Kansas Legislature is considering an important proposal that would help solve the state's dental care shortages by creating a new kind of midlevel provider, thus strengthening our dental care workforce and making it easier to get dental care. Rigorous training and education of these new providers -- called registered dental practitioners -- will be essential to ensuring that all Kansans receive top-quality dental care.

Our motto at Fort Hays State University is "Forward Thinking, World Ready," and we believe that by becoming the first four-year university in Kansas to offer a bachelor's degree program for registered dental practitioners, we're truly living up to that commitment. If the Legislature approves the bill, registered dental practitioners will operate as part of a team with dentists and dental hygienists -- similar to how nurse practitioners, physician's assistants and other providers work with medical doctors.

There's no question that our dental care workforce needs reinforcements. Ninety-three of the state's 105 counties don't have enough dentists to meet their residents' needs, and 13 counties don't have any dentists at all. As a result, Kansans are at risk for suffering unnecessarily from preventable dental disease, missing school and work, and possibly incurring serious health consequences. This is a particularly serious problem in rural parts of the state, including western Kansas, which is FHSU's primary service area.

Registered dental practitioners would work as part of a dentist-led team, providing routine but commonly needed services like cleanings, fillings and certain types of extractions -- services that complement those provided by dental hygienists while supporting the work of dentists, who would be freed up to provide more complicated care. This model has been used successfully for nearly 100 years in dozens of countries, and, more recently, in Minnesota.

Fort Hays State University has developed a similar type of education program for medical diagnostic imaging specialists. This successful program would be the model for our registered dental practitioner proposal. In addition, we are exploring an option with the Kansas Board of Regents that would allow new students to complete their education with both their dental hygienist and registered dental practitioner licenses, while also offering hygienists currently in the workforce the opportunity to return to school and become registered dental practitioners. We believe this approach would produce the greatest benefit for patients and our state's workforce alike.

Midlevel dental providers are being considered in many states that face dental care shortages similar to ours, and it is clear that these new providers will become an integral part of the dental care workforce. At FHSU, we are excited by the opportunity to be involved in the creation of a workforce that will provide desperately needed care for so many Kansans.

We must act now to shore up our dental care workforce. It is time for Kansas to bring in registered dental practitioners so that more Kansans can get quality dental care when and where they need it.


Dr. Edward H. Hammond


Fort Hays State University


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