Wisconsin legislators recently introduced innovative legislation to create a mid-level dental practitioner position in an effort to reduce healthcare costs and increase access to dental care. If passed, Senate Bill 784 and companion Assembly Bill 945 would allow the state dental board to license educated and qualified mid-level dental practitioners as dental therapists.

Similar to dental hygienists, dental therapists would work under the supervision of dentists to provide an expanded number of services to dental patients, including filling cavities and other basic procedures. The position mirrors the nurse practitioner system in hospitals, where mid-level providers work within a broader health team to provide quality service at a lower cost to consumers.

This pro-consumer legislation may be the solution to reducing costs and increasing access to dental care in Wisconsin, especially for rural and underserved populations. Nationwide, 63 million Americans live in areas designated by the Department of Health and Human Services as dental shortage areas.

By allowing dental therapists to handle basic procedures, dentists would have greater flexibility to focus on more complex procedures and treat more patients, similar to how dental hygienists enable dentists to efficiently use their time to serve patients. This greater efficiency holds the key to reducing dental costs and increasing access to care, all without cost to taxpayers or increasing government regulations.  

The change would especially benefit lower income households and Medicaid recipients. Currently, only one in three dentists accepts Medicaid recipients. By decreasing the costs of providing dental services, this legislation enables more dentists to offer services to Medicaid recipients.

Dental therapists can already practice in Alaska, Minnesota, Maine, and Vermont, which have all authorized the licensing of these mid-level practitioners.

Furthermore, the policy has strong bipartisan support on the national level. According to a poll commissioned by the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation and conducted by Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research, 79% of Americans support the creation of a mid-level practitioner position. The support is evenly spread among Americans of all parties, with 77% of Republicans, 80% of Democrats, and 80% of Independents in favor. 58% of all respondents strongly support the creation of this position, indicating support is intense and broad.

ATR strongly urges the Wisconsin legislature to expand the scope of practice for dental hygienists through the creation of a new mid-level dental provider. ATR’s letter to the legislature can be found here.