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Lawmakers ready to drill into dental issue

Dentists, generally pretty decent folks when they don't have what seems like both hands in your mouth while you gasp for breath, have a fight on their hands in the upcoming legislative session.

The fight is to keep their firm grip on nearly every dollar that is spent on dentistry and to hold down their costs.

That's easy now, when there are just two sorts of people with their hands in your mouth, dentists and their employees -- dental hygienists and assistants.

Here's the scrap: The Kansas Dental Project, a group of social/health interests, wants a new class of dental professionals in the mix, registered dental practitioners.

They'd have more training and skill and authority than dental hygienists but not as much as dentists. They'd be able to identify dental problems that require a dentist to get involved but solve dental problems that don't rise to that level of complexity.

It means they will make more money than hygienists and less than dentists.

Those registered dental practitioners may slow the flow of some of that high-dollar work that allows dentists to generally have the nicest cars in their parking lots, which is why they typically park in back of the office so we don't see what our dental bills are buying.

The interesting wrinkle in what is essentially an inside-the-office scrap is that social service agencies -- representing people without much money and who need dental services -- and residents of rural Kansas where dentists can be a 60 mile drive away and even a Regent university are wading into the issue.

The social service folks? They just want available dental services from registered practitioners who are close to where the teeth are and can handle many problems without sending clients to a distant dentist.

For those living in generally western Kansas, a new level of service for constituents' teeth is a good thing.

And for Fort Hays State University, well, it's chomping at the bit to offer classes for those registered practitioners, if the Legislature will allow that new licensing regimen and if the state Board of Regents will OK FHSU offering the new courses involved in turning out those registered practitioners.

On the other side is the Kansas Dental Association -- the dentists' lobby -- which likes things just the way they are but is offering to let hygienists do a little bit more and to increase prevention efforts, while warning it's dangerous to let non-dentists do certain things.

Under the new dental practitioner proposal, dentists would work out specific responsibilities for those practitioners -- what they can and can't do -- and what dental problems they can treat at remote offices without sending the patient into the dentists' offices for treatment.

Right now, a hygienist can take a look and perform some services, but the serious, high-dollar work goes to the dentist.

See how complicated this gets? It's not just an economic fight, it's a rural-urban fight, it's a social service fight, it's a general health care fight, and it takes place inside the Statehouse this winter.

And, we're betting that with this scrap -- after taxes, school funding and reapportionment -- that some of us are going to be too busy to floss.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more about this statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.