(OPINION) – Small businesses in California have taken a major hit over the last few months. Most have been forced to temporarily shut their doors amid mandatory stay-at-home-orders, which has led to sweeping layoffs and uncertainty for the future. The pandemic has impacted the business community so deeply that unemployment and revenue losses are said to be worse than those of the Great Depression.

Economically, Black-owned small businesses and their employees have been some of the most negatively impacted by the pandemic, as the struggles introduced have been compounded with an existing lack of access to affordable resources — most importantly — health care. As we continue to see the negative impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, lawmakers must embrace innovations that expand access to health care, including oral health care, to Black and minority communities.

The lack of access to oral health care has kept many in the Black community from receiving dental care. A PEW Research study found that “communities of color have much higher rates of tooth decay and tooth loss and fewer dental visits and preventive treatments than white populations.”

Unfortunately, Assembly Bill 1998 (Low), seeks to make it nearly impossible for many Californians, especially those in already underserved communities, to benefit from innovative telehealth services, including dentistry services, where there are glaring disparities in access due to cost and location.

According to the American Dental Association, 30% of Californians do not visit the dentist due to convenience and 62% due to cost, and 1 in 5 low-income adults say their mouth and teeth are in poor condition, which could affect their ability to interview for and secure a job. Teledentistry, however, has helped to break down these barriers by bringing more affordable options for dental care and teeth straightening into the homes of Californians, particularly in communities that have lacked these options in the past.

AB 1998 makes it more difficult for us to continue to close the disparity gap for access to oral care, including cosmetic teeth straightening. If the bill passes as written, millions of Californians will be required to pay an additional thousand dollars in unnecessary costs before receiving clear aligner therapy services through teledentistry platforms with licensed dentists and orthodontists.

I know from personal experience how critical teledentistry teeth straightening services are as I decided in my 30s to get my teeth straightened as it would help me with my career. I was an Invisalign customer and after I received my aligners, my dentist went out of business. I was stuck and Invisalign could not help me and I couldn’t afford to restart with another dentist.

Had I been using teledentistry service that did not require in-person visits I would not have the troubles I had and I would have been able to finish straightening my teeth.

It is also worth mentioning that the requirements in the bill, including mandating x-rays, are not based on clinical evidence or scientific studies and no other state has adopted any similar regulatory requirement before accessing clear aligners using teledentistry.

If passed, the measure would create a serious access issue to oral healthcare in many Black and minority communities which have been underserved by the dental industry for generations. I urge our lawmakers to oppose this bill to protect affordable dental options in California.

By Salena Pryor

Salena Pryor is president of the Black Small Business Association of California.