10 Under 10: Dr. Jason Tanguay, from mountain guide to helping dentists navigate Medicaid

Before becoming a dentist, Dr. Jason Tanguay, right, worked as a mountain guide.

Dr. Jason Tanguay climbed a winding path to dentistry — quite literally.

He used to be a mountain guide.

“My brother, we were both mountain guides, he got into an accident where he took a big chunk of ice to the face and lost seven teeth. I saw him, his recovery, I saw his interactions with dentistry. My only exposure was having cavities filled but not seeing the reconstruction process,” Dr. Tanguay said. “One of my good friends was a dentist, he’s like, yeah come to work and see what I do. My interest had been piqued by my brother’s experience and I hung out with (my friend) at work and it seemed a good fit.”

Dr. Tanguay was teaching high school at the time and realized it wasn’t a good long-term fit. The artistry of dentistry and hand skills needed appealed to him too. So when he was 30, he started dental school.

He kept with mountain guiding through dental school until he asked for two weeks to go to Russia for a guided trip.

“So,” he joked, “I’ve never been to Russia.”

Dr. Tanguay, left, treats a patient.

After dental school in Washington, Dr. Tanguay settled in Montana, where he’s in private practice. Part of that practice is setting up a mobile clinic at three nursing homes in Bozeman (fillings, cleaning and extractions in the arts-and-crafts room), all powered by an air compressor.

“They don’t have to get in a van and go across town,” Dr. Tanguay said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s really rewarding and it’s something that actually, a lot more people are going to need to do as boomers age and more of them are in nursing homes.”

Dr. Tanguay also helps keep the state’s Medicaid providers organized with a symposium he moderates — the second one coming up in November.

The program is a way of bringing together providers from across the state to discuss best ways to serve Medicaid patients, how to work within the systems and make Medicaid-funded dentistry work, from a business standpoint.

Montana has a higher Medicaid provider participation rate than many states. Patients using Medicaid typically have a harder time making appointments and the regulatory burden for providing care is higher than with private insurers, Dr. Tanguay said.

“A lot of providers shy away, and people covered by that insurance have complicated lives. They wouldn’t have that insurance if things were going really well,” Dr. Tanguay said. “It’s a combination of low reimbursements and complicated lives and people having a hard time showing up to appointments. The no-show rate with low reimbursement is a tough proposition so we’re pooling together best practices on how to help patients show up, how to set reminders, how to schedule so you can be helpful.”

When Dr. Tanguay isn’t leading mountain hikes, treating elderly patients or helping dentists navigate Medicaid, he’s a state anesthesia inspector. Dentists who administer a certain amount of anesthesia need an inspection every five years. The work allows him to keep a hand in education — something he’s missed since leaving that job before dental school.

“I miss the teaching part of things too. It’s fun to educate dentists on things they might not be aware of and running them and their staff through emergency scenarios is cool, and hopefully it makes them better practitioners and safer for their patients,” Dr. Tanguay said. “It’s rewarding. On one hand, I’m a regulator with a clipboard, but I like to see it more as mentorship. And really, two-thirds of the dentists are more experienced than me, but it’s an opportunity for information exchange.”

Dr. Tanguay is a recipient of the 2018 10 Under 10 award. Read more about the award at ADA.org/10under10.

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