Corporate-Sponsored, State Provided Cheap Dentistry in Alaska

Boy was I ever ripped off for a dental degree!

I spent 4 years in college and 4 years in dental school, and according to a CNBC article with no byline titled “ Alaska ‘s efforts on rural dental care paying off,” I could qualify for this job after only 2 years of study right out of high school. What’s more, instead of it costing me tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, the state of Alaska insists that corporations will pay for dental therapists’ education as part of the deal… with strings attached of course.

“Organizations that employ certified dental therapists are Yukon Kuskokwim Corp, Southeast Alaska Regional Health Corp., Maniilaaq Assoc. (Kotzebue), Norton Sound Health Corp. and Bristol Bay Health Corp.”

In return, dental therapists must serve those corporations for four years to pay them back for their investment in the state certification, as well as produce income to cover the corporations’ liability and adequately compensate CEOs for their cleverness in business. Since DDSs aren’t trained to make shrewd business deals like the Alaska plan, I bet the CEOs are MBAs.

Aren’t there laws against this kind of business arrangement in the 49 states south of Alaska ?

Other than the indentured servitude problem, did not one of the RTI researchers hired by W.K. Kellogg Foundation to turn out swell research, have anything at all to say about risks of having inadequately trained high school grads performing surgery in the middle of nowhere? Did not one of the 14 therapists experience an unexpected treatment complication that required the skill and training of a real dentist – and quickly? Since the therapists work under “general supervision” of fully-licensed dentists in Alaska, rather than ”direct supervision,” how far away by plane will the DDS be when unanticipated problems predictably arise? Mysteriously, issues involving tedious parts of the Hippocratic Oath were not covered in the CNBC article.

Are those reaping the profits from this experiment in iatrogenics properly informing Alaskan parents who live in unnamed communities that the dental care their children receive is inferior to that provided by a fully trained dentist? Or perhaps RTI researches have proven that the additional, traditional education makes no actual difference in dental care.

Since there is no bad news to report, politicians could conclude from the CNBC article that the level of care provided by dental therapists with 2 years training is equivalent, or even superior to dentists’ who have four years of post-graduate training. It looks to me like Alaska is proudly racing New Zealand’s to the bottom to save money on dental care in the short term while incidentally boosting corporate profits the American way. So why not push the envelope of humane treatment, and include a capitation plan run by and for Dental Health Maintenance Organizations?

As I write this, the Texas HHS is proposing capitation to state lawmakers as a way to save money on Medicaid dentistry for children in Texas who have no choice or voice. Rather than paying per filling, DHMO corporations reward neglect on a per-head basis. I suppose worse things could happen for dental therapists’ patients.

 Since CNBC’s obviously biased article has no byline, it’s a sure bet it was not written by a CNBC reporter. So who purchased this press release? Follow the tuition.

 D. Kellus Pruitt DDS