The North Dakota House of Representatives will be considering legislation that permits dental therapists to practice in the state this legislative session. If passed, HB 1426 would increase accessibility to dental care and decrease healthcare costs for the state’s residents. 

The market-oriented solution allows dentists to hire mid-level practitioners, thereby expanding the number of professionals in the field. In doing so, the cost of basic services would be reduced, especially impacting those in underserved and rural areas. 

These highly-trained, mid-level professionals would be an asset to the state’s dental community. Before practicing, dental therapists are required to participate in programs certified by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, which also oversees the training of dentists. The practitioners would work as part of a larger team in offering preventative dental care and performing basic procedures, like filling cavities. Their services allow for dentists to treat a higher volume of patients at a lower cost. 

The bill is especially timely, considering 63 million Americans live in areas deemed by the Department of Health and Human Services to have a dental health professional shortage. North Dakota is in particular need with 185,865 of its 760,000 residents living in one of the state’s 75 designated areas. 

Among those benefitting from this bill are Medicaid recipients, who face even greater challenges in accessing the necessary care. Currently, just 1 in 3 dentists accept Medicaid, but the passage of HB 1426 would allow for more dental care providers to accept Medicaid payments with the reduced cost of care. 

Unlike most healthcare legislation, this measure would benefit the taxpayer. The program requires no extra government spending, and even offers a degree of relief to the taxpayer. In improving the quality and accessibility of care for Medicaid recipients, taxpayers are less likely to have to front the bill for untreated dental ailments and a generally less healthy population. 

This common-sense healthcare reform has received widespread support from both sides of the aisle. A nationwide poll conducted by the Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research on behalf of the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation concluded that more than 75% of likely voters supported the creation of mid-level dental practitioners, while just 15% expressed any degree of opposition. The same poll found that 80% of Democrats and 77% of Republicans supported the process, showing its political value. Measures like this one have already been approved in Minnesota, Maine, Arizona, Michigan, and Alaska. 

North Dakota ought to follow these states in making dental care more accessible for its residents, decreasing costs, strengthening consumer and business options, and mitigating the long term care costs of Medicaid on consumers who lack preventative care coverage.