Analysis

Washington State Legislators Support Dental Therapists

Washington state Senator David Frockt (D) and state Representative Eileen Cody (D) say that allowing dentists and clinics to hire dental therapists can help deliver affordable dental care to those who need it. Dental therapists—similar to a physician assistant on a medical team—perform routine preventive and restorative care, such as filling cavities.

In their op-ed, published Feb. 3 on crosscut.com, Sen. Frockt and Rep. Cody said that dental therapists are a “solution to the issue of bringing more dental care providers to underserved areas and communities.” Roughly 45 million Americans live in dentist shortage areas—regions with a scarcity of dentists relative to the population size. In 2013, nearly 16 million low-income children went without dental care.

Dental therapists are a type of midlevel provider. Extensive research shows that these practitioners provide high-quality and cost-effective care. By being able to perform some routine procedures, they give dentists an option to improve access to treatment in parts of the country where dentists are scarce.

Midlevel providers practice in Alaska and Minnesota, were recently authorized in Maine, and are being considered in 15 additional states. Another effective approach to increasing access to care involves authorizing existing providers, such as dental assistants and hygienists, to do more and work in community settings such as public schools and nursing homes. Telehealth technology can also be used to communicate with an off-site supervising dentist.

Learn more about how dental providers are improving access to care in underserved communities.

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