Dental care for seniors rooted in 14 years of work by Sen. Christensen

Sen. Allen Christensen on the Senate floor.

Sen. Allen Christensen on the Senate floor.

For a number of years, adults haven’t had dental coverage through Medicaid, but change could be coming through a bill sponsored by Sen. Allen Christensen.

As a pediatric dentist himself, Sen. Christensen knows the importance of dental care for one’s overall quality of life. Over time, Sen. Christensen has managed to provide dental coverage through Medicaid for more groups of people. Now, SB 11 would provide dental coverage for seniors on Medicaid through the University of Utah dental school program and its affiliates throughout the state.

The University of Utah School of Dentistry is always looking for patients with whom students can learn, and the school is willing to pay the state’s portion of the federal match in order to have the patients come to them. This means Utah is able to provide care without having to budget additional funds, freeing up money for other areas like education, transportation and public safety.

Additionally, the bill allows for adults who previously needed a crown to receive porcelain or porcelain-to-metal crown, as opposed to a temporarily and potentially unsightly metal crown.

“I’ve been trying to get this through forever. It was one of the reasons I got into the legislature,” Sen. Christensen said. “Little by little, we’re getting it back to where more people have it, and we’re starting to pay the dentists a more reasonable rate for taking care of all of these citizens. I’m happy we can get another group in on it without a price tag. That’s a win for everybody.”

Jessica Atkinson, the current Utah Dental Hygiene Association (UDHA) president, and Laura Green, a past UDHA president visited the Capitol as representatives of the UDHA. Both expressed their support of the bill.

“Any bill that will support individuals who aren’t able to access dental care on their own, we think is a great thing,” Atkinson said. “As those individuals who are either homebound, the blind or disabled – as they’re able to get more Medicaid coverage for dental care, that will enable them to have not only better oral health but better overall health.”

Green said the bill isn’t beneficial just for patients, but for the future dentists still learning in schools.

“This bill, in particular, gives an opportunity for an able-bodied, educated group – the dental hygienists – an opportunity to provide that care,” Green said. “We’re looking for opportunities to impact the health of those who are not able to access it other ways.”