Oregon Takes Significant Step on Oral Health Equity by Adopting Dental Therapy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

July 20, 2021 

Contact: Jack Cardinal, (781) 960-5208 

jcardinal@communitycatalyst.org 

(BOSTON, MA)  Yesterday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed House Bill 2528 (HB 2528), allowing the state to license dental therapists as a result of the tireless work of the Oregon Dental Access Campaign. Dental therapists have been providing care in tribal communities in the state since 2017 under pilot authority, but yesterday’s passage allows dental therapists to be licensed and practice statewide in areas with a shortage of dental care. The state joins eleven other states in recognizing that dental therapists have the ability to do what many other initiatives before it have failed to do: expand access to quality dental care in communities that have long gone without.  

“There is an oral health epidemic in our nation because access to dental care is blocked for far too many communities,” said Tera Bianchi, director of the Dental Access Project at Community Catalyst. “We’ve seen first-hand the impact poor dental care has on someone’s life from job and finances to performance in school. Dental therapists are a proven way to connect life-saving oral care to communities that need it. We are proud of the work done by health justice advocates in Oregon to officially let licensed dental therapists do what they do best: care for those who need it most.”  

Miranda Davis, DDS, MPHNorthwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, said, “Considering that more than one million Oregonians live in dental deserts, and those areas are often low income, rural, or tribal, or communities of color, this legislation is long overdue to get communities the care they need. Dental therapists have been making a difference in Oregon’s tribal communities since 2017 and this legislation allows dental therapists to bring care to communities all over the state. Today is a major milestone for health care equity.” 

Amy Coplen, RDH, MS, Director, School of Dental Hygiene Studies, Pacific University, said, “Allowing Oregon to license dental therapists across the state is a major win for access to health and dental care for all residents. We see too often the impact that poor oral health can have on overall health and ultimately economic and education outcomes. Dental therapists are a proven way to connect care to communities and are trained to give that care in a variety of settings. Thank you to all the advocates for their work to tear down barriers to oral health care in our state and nation.”   

Dental therapists are licensed providers that work under the supervision of a dentist to provide routine dental care like exams and fillings. They are a flexible addition to a dentist-led team, complementing the work of dental hygienists and dental assistants and freeing dentists up to focus on more complicated care.  

Support for dental therapy is bipartisan and diverse, attracting groups ranging from the National Congress of American Indians to the American Public Health Association to the Cato Institute. The tremendous support for dental therapy is only matched by the need for it. Even outside of a pandemic, the fact that 60 million Americans live in dental care deserts and nearly one-third of adults have skipped dental care because of costs underscores the severe lack of equitable access to care that can be partially addressed by having more trained professionals serving in the communities where they live. Additionally, dental therapists have proven economic benefits by expanding a dental practice and providing new pathways to economic security for families. 

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About Community Catalyst:Community Catalyst is a leading non-profit national health advocacy organization dedicated to advancing a movement for health equity and justice. We partner with local, state and national advocates to leverage and build power so all people can influence decisions that affect their health. Health systems will not be accountable to people without a fully engaged and organized community voice. That’s why we work every day to ensure people’s interests are represented wherever important decisions about health and health care are made: in communities, state houses and on Capitol Hill. For more information, visit http://www.communitycatalyst.org. Follow us on Twitter @CommCatHealth.  

 

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