Dentist PAC donated $4M to political campaigns


Dentists are fixing more than teeth — they’ve also become a powerful political force in Albany.

The political-action arm of the New York State Dental Association — Empire State Dental PAC — has spread $4 million in donations to candidates’ campaigns since 2010, a Post review of Board of Elections records reveals.

And the mint from the dentist’s chair has paid off — the trade group has blocked legislation in the statehouse that could spur competition and hurt business.

On its Web site, the Dental Association boasts of “legislative victories” for members that include defeating proposals to permit dental hygienists — who provide basic dental care such as teeth cleaning — from practicing “without the supervision of a dentist.”

They blocked another bill that would allow the practice of denturology — having a separately licensed denturologist or lab technician independently fit dentures for a patient — without the supervision or referral from a dentist.

A law has been approved in other states to have dental therapists perform basic, preventive oral care without the supervision of a dentist. Such a proposal hasn’t even been introduced in New York.

Critics say the contributions have helped dentists maintain a stranglehold on all aspects of oral care in the state.

“The dentists have become Albany’s quiet lobbying juggernaut. They’re a stealth juggernaut,” said John Kaehny, director of the watchdog group Reinvent Albany.

John KaehnyChad Rachman

“It’s pay-to-play policy,” he said.

The Dental Association is perennially listed as one of the top donors to state legislative campaigns and political parties. The Empire Dental PAC was listed as the ninth largest giver in 2014, the seventh largest giver in 2015 and 24th in 2016, records show.

The half-million-plus in annual donations puts the 13,000-member dentist’ donations right up there with the more high-profile power players such as the United Federation of Teachers, Greater NY Hospital Association, NY AFL-CIO, DC 37, and hospital workers union/SEIU 1199.

Since 2010, Empire Dental PAC’s $4 million in filings include $822,000 to the state Senate Republican Campaign Committee, $753,000 to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee and $150,000 to Gov. Cuomo’s campaign kitty.

The Dental Association defended its aggressive advocacy.

“We have a very big PAC. We’re a powerful influence. We’re a powerful influence to improve oral care,” said Dental Association executive director Mark Feldman.

Feldman said he “bristles” over claims that dentists are just out to protect their own interests when the issue is about patient safety.

He said it’s risky and medically wrong to have someone other than a dentist to fit dentures for a patient, who may have other serious oral-care needs.

Feldman also said the trade group has pushed laws to boost patient access to oral care and expand opportunities for hygienists and dental assistants — albeit in concert with dentists.

The Dental Association pushed a new law approved in 2013 — a “collaborative agreement” — that allows dental hygienists to practice in hospitals or other medical facilities under the supervision of or a contract with a dentist. The Dental Hygienists’ Association cited the law as a policy success.

Feldman also insisted there isn’t need for independent dental therapists in the state because dental care is widely accessible. Unlike many other states, New York has a generous Medicaid program that insures dental care for needy adults as well and children, he said.

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