SALT LAKE CITY — A program that received approval from state leaders to provide dental services to Medicaid participants failed to take effect this year, as funding was never appropriated.

The pilot program, to have been facilitated by the state's Division of Family Health and Preparedness, aimed to "increase access to cost-effective and quality dental health care by increasing the number of dentists available for Medicaid dental services," according to state statute.

Current provisions make it easier for individuals on Medicaid to receive more costly dental care via hospital emergency rooms instead of cost-efficient preventive care before a tooth requires extraction.

The program would have established preventive benefits for specific Medicaid populations, Rep. Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray, told the Health and Human Services Interim Committee on Wednesday.

"When we're expending valuable state dollars, we should be careful," he said. "Dental care is one of those issues that impacts (overall health). It's a cost savings in the long run."

Cosgrove said "good-intended dentists" within the community still provide low-cost care to their patients on Medicaid, but "they can't do it at a cost that puts them out of business."

The committee also heard from Utah Department of Health officials. Plans are in the works to extend dental care to Medicaid patients, but Utah Department of Health Director Michael Hales said it "has to be done in stages that are sustainable."