Dental Therapy Continues to Grow
The Minnesota legislature authorized dental therapists in 2009. Today, there are 113 licensed dental therapists practicing in Minnesota, many of whom are dually licensed as dental hygienists. Two dental therapy education programs are educating future dental therapists in Minnesota, and there is speculation that another program may be started, as well.
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In 2018, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of the Treasury, and Department of Labor, in collaboration with the US Federal Trade Commission and the White House Presidential Departments, issued “Reforming America’s Healthcare System Through Choice and Competition.” The report contains state and federal policy recommendations to improve choice and competition in the healthcare sector. Notably, the report says, “Emerging healthcare occupations, such as dental therapy, can increase access and drive down costs for consumers, while still ensuring safe care. States should be particularly wary of undue statutory and regulatory impediments to the development of such new occupations.”
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Dental Therapy Today
Currently, dental therapy has been authorized in Minnesota, Maine, Vermont, Arizona, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, and Connecticut. In addition, Washington, Idaho, and Montana have authorized dental therapists to practice on tribal lands. Dental therapists provide services on tribal lands in Alaska, too. Oregon has created a pilot project to allow dental therapists, and the legislature is expected to consider providing permanent authorization in 2021.
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Future Looks Bright
As we look forward to the 2021 state legislative session, we anticipate that nine states will be deliberating dental therapy legislation. These include Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Oregon (to provide permanent authorization), Washington (to include the entire state), and Wisconsin.
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The Path Ahead
While the expansion of dental therapy is certainly exciting, there is much more work to be done. The American Dental Hygienists’ Association advocates for the broadening of opportunities for dental hygienists and works on strategies to increase access to care for our nation’s most vulnerable populations. Visit adha.org for information on how you can make a difference in your state.