Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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FL Lawmakers Consider Expanding Mobile Dental Units: Florida Last In Child Dental Care

Girl brusing teeth, with headline: Florida, last in child dental care. Legislators considering going more mobile
Photo: Rodnae Productions via Pexels  |  Columbia County Observer graphic

Trimmel GomesFLORIDA – Florida ranks last (50th out of 50 states) of children receiving a dental health visit during the previous 12 months. Identical bills in the FL House & Senate aim to change this.

Like food trucks, where the food comes to you, mobile dental units are used to expand access to care in hard-to-reach, low-income communities and other communities in need.

Proposals in the FL Legislature aim to help them expand their reach even more. The bills would allow all of what's known as "Health Access Settings" or state programs or institutions and accredited dental hygiene programs to contract with mobile dental units.

Health Access Settings: What Are They

Programs or institutions of the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Health, the Department of Juvenile Justice; nonprofit community health centers; federally approved head start centers; county health departments, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs); school-based prevention programs and clinic operated by accredited colleges of dentistry or accredited dental hygiene programs.

Chante Miller, a certified registered dental hygienist, said the change is welcomed because it is common for Health Access Settings such as a Head Start Center to be located 15 to 20 miles away from a brick-and-mortar dentist, and parents often cannot navigate coordinating transportation with their work schedules.

"They wouldn't be able to afford to take off missing a day's pay," Miller explained. "That's why it's important to have mobile units that have the ability to go where those children are, and families are to provide services to them instead."

The proposal has supporters encouraging lawmakers to support the change, such as the Florida Dental Hygienists Association and Floridians for Dental Access. However, the Florida Dental Association, which is in communication with those organizations, said it is monitoring "to ensure that policies are not being implemented that could compromise mobile dental bus programs that are currently in place and effectively reaching communities."

The proposal also clarifies the definition of a mobile dental unit, and Miller pointed out it does not expand the scope of practice for dental hygienists. She noted that some units could have just about everything you would find in a dental office, and some have the essentials to provide basic hygiene care.

"They are able to get work without the presence of a dentist and those Health Access Settings, so if they are on the mobile unit, they can provide those health-access services to Head Start Centers without a dentist being present," Miller emphasized. "Of course, for follow-up care, we refer them back to a dentist."

Miller and others are hoping the proposal will advance in committees. It also calls for the Board of Dentistry to require persons applying to take dental hygiene examinations to maintain medical malpractice insurance.

Florida leads the nation in the number of individuals living in Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas, with nearly six million.

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