Empower Wisconsin | May 13, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The Department of Health Services’ refusal to lift its lockdown “guidance” on routine dental care is “draconian and punitive,” according to a member of the state’s Dentistry Examining Board.
Frustration and concern marked Monday’s teleconference meeting of the board, a meeting that drew more than 500 members of Wisconsin’s dental care community, among others.
As Empower Wisconsin first reported last week, the board had issued a statement that authorized the re-opening of dental offices around the state to routine dental care. About 90 minutes later, the statement mysteriously disappeared.
The Department of Health Services apparently demanded the board remove the notice, insisting that dentists follow DHS “guidelines,” which “strongly recommend” that dental care providers only conduct “emergency” treatment and “postpone all elective procedures, surgeries and non-emergent dental visits.” The Evers administration agency is ostensibly doing so to limit COVID-19 exposure, but it has provided scant evidence as to why it remains a necessity to curtail basic dental care.
Dentistry Examining Board Chairman Matthew Bistan, a dentist from Sheboygan, said he asked DHS what could happen to the licenses of offices that did not follow the guidelines. He was told that complaints may be filed with the department and that the emergency order also provides for “criminal prosecution for violations.” Each complaint, of course, would be “investigated on a case-to-case basis.”
Board officials say they have attempted to work with DHS for weeks to safely re-open dental practices.
“It seems to be apparent to me that either they are unwilling or we are unneeded in that regard,” Bistan said.
Board members said it has been an “extremely frustrating” process. Board Vice Chairwoman Wendy Pietz, who owns a dental practice in Greenfield, said the dental examining board has been “put in a difficult and awkward position.”
Fellow board member and dentist Peter Sheild of Oconomowoc said he found it highly offensive that DHS bureaucrats think they know dental health and the needs of the communities better than the professionals Gov. Tony Evers named to the board.
“We’re the boots on the ground. We’re providing the care. Sitting behind the desk is not the real world,” he said. “I would argue that DHS by their draconian and punitive position on this matter is actually contributing in very real ways to a community health crisis.”
The board unanimously passed a motion to adopt a statement urging DHS to reconsider its position — and fast.
“The Dentistry Examining Board believes the citizens of Wisconsin need unrestricted access to dental services for public health and safety. We believe the dental profession is able to use their training, education, experience and expertise to determine the best course of care for their patients,” the statement, which was approved unanimously, declares.
Wisconsin dentists have “always followed the highest level of infection control,” the statement further notes.
Board members also moved that the statement be placed on the its web page, located on the Department of Safety and Professional Services department site. As of Tuesday afternoon, the statement had yet to be posted.
DHS officials have not responded to Empower Wisconsin’s request for comment.
The examining board also approved a motion creating a three-member task force to work with DHS to communicate the board’s concerns. Even if the agency agrees to change its position, it could take some time before the power-grabbing bureaucracy finalizes new “guidance.”
“This has been an extremely frustrating process due to the lack of cooperation at DHS to respond to our requests, even to participate in the process,” Dentist member Herbert Kaske of Twin Lakes said, “As a person who volunteers their time and energy … I find that very disrespectful that that’s how we are treated. I hope at some point that there is some leadership that recognizes that and handles it in a different manner.”
For now, dental health professionals wait. And so do their patients — many in pain.
“I got a call that my (appointment) is approved for June 17th. Broke a tooth in March but they could make it comfortable. Right, pain every day,” Nancy Koenigs wrote on Empower Wisconsin’s Facebook page.
Judy Hill wrote, “I’m waiting for a root canal. I have to wait until the state opens again or the pain becomes intolerable, whichever comes first.”