In Florida, the state legislature has a great opportunity to expand access to dental care, making it more affordable as well.
They can do so by passing a package of legislation, introduced by Sen. Jeff Brandes, to allow dental therapists to train and practice in the state.
Dental therapists operate under the supervision of a dentist, and go through extensive training alongside dental students, allowing them to perform a range of procedures.
The University of Florida College of Dentistry defines a dental therapist as “An oral health professional who works under the supervision of a licensed dentist. A member of the oral health care team who is educated to provide evaluative, preventive, restorative, and minor surgical dental care within their scope of practice.”
Put another way, they can do a lot more than a dental hygienist, but they don’t do everything a dentist does.
They free their supervising dentist up to directly treat more cases that demand their level of expertise. Perhaps most significantly from a public policy perspective, they expand access to care to underserved communities, and make care more affordable.
Led by Floridians for Dental Access, nearly 50 groups are calling for reform in Tallahassee; “Importantly, practicing under general supervision would allow dental therapists to be sent to nursing homes, schools, facilities for people with disabilities, rural satellite clinics and other places serving people who face obstacles traveling to receive care.”
A new James Madison Institute report finds there are several benefits of placing dental therapists in a practice; “increased access to care for underserved populations, including low income, the uninsured, rural residents and older adults, improved oral health outcomes in underserved communities, reductions in wait times and travel time, improved patient satisfaction, and dental practice cost savings, increases in average monthly revenue and increased productivity.”
A report last year by WalletHub indicates that Florida is at the bottom of the nation as states for poor dental health (44th out of 50th). “Florida ranks 36 among the states for the availability of dentists based on population, according to the findings. Massachusetts, South Dakota, Michigan, Maryland and the District of Columbia have the most dentists.”
Florida ranks 29th out of 50th in terms of number of dentists per capita, having half a dentist for every 1,000 citizens.
Clearly there is a need for this reform in Florida, and the opportunity is there for lawmakers.
Of course, some opponents are trying to get in the way. Yet, they are mischaracterizing the bill. One ADA representative told WFSU news that “creating a licensing program for a new type of dental provider will increase regulations and costs, and she says mid-level providers can’t compete with a dentist’s level of knowledge.”
As you already know, the point of dental therapists is not to replace or compete with dentists, but to work under their supervision with patients they are trained to assist. Far from increasing regulations, this removes government barriers so that the market can offer an affordable, accessible solution for underserved folks. Right now people are going without care because of dumb government regulation, it is time to fix that.
The State of North Dakota also has legislation on their docket this session as well. Americans for Tax Reform urged members of the North Dakota State HouseCommittee on Human Services to support the legislation, House Bill 1426. The bill advanced out of committee this week, exciting news, and setting a good example for Florida to follow.
With dental therapy, dentists who want to expand their practice and add therapists to it will be free to do so. The therapists, if permitted, would be able to concentrate on regular services and make it possible for the practice to take on more clients and accept more low-cost procedures. This would leave the dentists to focus on other pressing issues in their office; more complex cases, paperwork, managing the practice, etc. etc.
The limited access to care across Florida and North Dakota is a perfect opportunity for dental therapy.