Over the last few weeks, we have seen significant progress across the country for community-driven efforts to improve access to dental care by adding dental therapists to the dental team.

In Vermont, legislation to add dental therapists will be voted in in the State Senate today.  Already, the legislation adding mid-level providers has passed three committees – Public Health and Welfare, Government Operations, and Finance – with favorable recommendations. More private practice dentists are also stepping out in support of the measure.

In New Mexico, legislation to establish dental therapists passed the House of Representatives with a 34-25 vote, and Senate Memorial 136 passed the Senate to establish formal negotiations on the topic. Both votes highlight that New Mexico legislators see dental therapists as an important step forward in addressing unmet oral health needs. 

In these states and also across the country, campaigns are driven by significant community support. In New Mexico and Vermont, dozens of community groups are working to advance this community- based solution. Just as important, thousands of hardworking New Mexicans and Vermonters are taking the time to sign petitions, email, call and meet with their legislators. 

Grassroots supporters know that adding dental therapists to the team is an evidence-based and common sense solution for Americans’ inability to get affordable dental care where they live. Adding a provider to the team will allow care to be provided in communities where there are currently no providers. Dental therapists are cost-effective to employ, which will allow current safety-net providers to expand their capacity. They will be able to deliver more care to hard-to-reach Medicaid and uninsured populations, saving both patients and states money. Dental therapists will also create good paying jobs.

Momentum is also growing for this solution because it is a bi-partisan issue. We have seen remarkable leadership from both Republican and Democratic legislators on this common-sense legislation. Policymakers from both parties have been championing this non-partisan legislation that expands the capacity of the dental team by enabling dental therapists to provide routine and preventive care in their state.

The successful New Mexico legislation mentioned above, House Bill (HB) 349, was championed by Republican Representative Dennis Roch. The 34-25 vote that passed the bill was in Republican-controlled state House of Representatives. Roch and his colleagues understand that dental therapists are a free-market approach to improving access to dental care. Free market and conservative groups such as Americans for Tax Reform and Americans for Prosperity Kansas support similar efforts to license mid-level providers in states such as Texas and Kansas. 

In Vermont, Senate bill S.20 has been gaining momentum in the overwhelmingly Democrat-controlled state Senate because adding dental therapists to the dental team will improve access to care and will make cost-effective care more available to the state underserved populations. The bill is championed by community based organizations such as Voices for Vermont’s Children, Coalition for Vermont’s Elders, VPIRG and Vermont’s Clinics for the Uninsured as well as two formers state dental directors. 

More importantly, legislators, activists from both parties and communities members see this issue an opportunity to be on the right side of history.   Adding dental therapists is a proven, evidence based way to address unmet oral health needs and one that appeals to the majority of Americans. As each day passes, support for dental therapy grows. It is only a matter of time before states like Vermont and New Mexico follow the lead of Alaska, Minnesota and Maine to establish dental therapists as way to improve access to dental care. In all of these places, there is increasing recognition that adding dental therapists to the team isgood policy and good for state residents.