Video courtesy of the Kansas Dental Project.
The Registered Dental Practitioner (RDP) program is an emerging effort in Kansas that will increase access to dental care for people across the state. The RDP is a mid-level provider, similar to a physician's assistant in a doctor's office. Under this model, registered dental hygienists can complete additional education and training to become RDPs. With the supervision of a dentist, the RDP is able to provide preventative care, cleanings, extractions and fillings.
A similar model is already in place in more than 50 countries around the globe, as well as two U.S. states.
These RDPs have been able to provide quality, safe care to patients. The RDP program is especially needed in Kansas, where, according to Steve Coen, president and CEO of the Kansas Health Foundation, there is a severe shortage of dental care.
"We're facing a dental crisis in the state," Coen said. "Of the 105 counties in Kansas, 93 have too few dentists, and 13 have none. Too many adults and children are living in pain." The map below illustrates the widespread shortage in the state.
Additionally, in many of those counties, patients must wait months for an appointment.
Dr. Daniel Minnis, a dentist in Pittsburg, Kan., sees the problem firsthand. "It is not uncommon for a child to wait two months for a restorative dental appointment."
This shortage of dental care in Kansas is only going to get worse. It's estimated that, by 2045, there will be fewer than 30 practicing dentists for every 100,000 Kansans. Shannon Cotsoradis, president of the Kansas Action for Children, emphasizes the need to increase access to dental care in Kansas.
"We are seeing that people are turning to emergency rooms because they can't see a dentist," Cotsoradis said. "In 2010, there were more than 17,500 ER visits because of dental care, with the number one reason being cavities."
The RDP model stands to dramatically increase access to dental care in underserved populations of Kansas.
"Adding one RDP to a practice can allow at least 2,000 additional appointments a year," Cotsoradis said. "This program is critical to increasing the reach in safety-net clinics where they often have waiting lists."
Dr. Minnis agrees. "With the RDP as part of the dental team," he said, "many of these patients will be able to receive their needed dental care at the same appointment as their initial examination or within a few days, rather than months."
The Kansas Health Foundation has partnered with the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund and the REACH Healthcare Foundation to support the RDP program, and eventually, alleviate the current obstacles related to oral health care in Kansas.
"The Foundation aims to improve the health of all Kansans, and oral health is definitely a component of overall health," Coen said. "We want to be sure dental care is always available to eliminate pain and suffering."
Many organizations are joining the Foundation to champion bringing this initiative to Kansas, including the Kansas Action for Children, Kansas Health Consumer Coalition, Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Though it would take a few years for the proper infrastructure to be developed for the program, Dr. Minnis is ready for it to begin.
"I would hire a Registered Dental Practitioner in my private practice tomorrow," he said, "and allow them to perform procedures within their scope on myself, my family members and my patients."