Push for Dental Therapist Licensing Gaining Momentum Across the Country


030124-N-1328C-510Approximately 32% of people report being “concerned” by the way their teeth look, but many of them can’t afford access to the dental care needed to correct certain issues. States across the U.S. have been seeing a push to license dental therapists to practice, but the action is meeting resistance in state legislatures.

Countless people across various states don’t have access to the dental care that they need. Whether it’s a matter of insurance or the lack of a practicing dentist in the area, people in the U.S. are being forced to go without it. Dental therapists are required to have the same level of education as a practicing dental hygienist, and like hygienists, they must be hired by practicing dentists.

Dental therapists can perform preventative and routine treatment to children and adults. This includes cleanings, fillings, and other routine dental hygiene procedures. Currently, only four states — Minnesota, Alaska, Maine and Vermont — allow dental therapy practices within dental offices.

Bills that would allow dental therapists to practice have been proposed in multiple states, but the biggest battles are currently being fought in North Dakota and in Arizona.

In Arizona, the dental therapy proposal has stalled in the legislature. Proponents argue that dental therapists could provide basic dental care at lower costs and provide a solution in those rural and tribal communities that are experiencing dental shortages. In many cases, people in these areas are forced to go to the emergency room for dental care. From 2011 through 2014, over 41,000 patients were forced to receive oral health care in hospital emergency rooms.

Despite arguments to push the bill forward, both dentists and lawmakers remain uncertain that dental therapy is the solution to providing less expensive dental care.

North Dakota is experiencing a similar battle in their state legislature. The arguments for dental therapy remain largely the same: proponents argue that dental therapists could serve Native American populations where there are shortages of dental practices.

The legislature still isn’t convinced. Katie Stewart, president of the NDDA Board of Trustees, explained that the advantages of dental therapy have been “oversold with no evidence.”

It’s difficult to tell whether or not these bills will be passed, but the successes in Minnesota and other states that allow dental therapy might provide the necessary evidence to turn the tables.