Michigan Senate Advances Dental Therapy Legislation

Bill would help close gap on oral health care access for state residents

dental therapy
© River North Photography/iStockphoto

With broad bipartisan support, the Michigan Senate passed legislation Oct. 11 to authorize dental therapists to practice in the state. S.B. 541, sponsored by state Senator Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), would help address Michigan’s serious dental access challenges by increasing the availability of dental providers able to care for patients’ routine oral health needs. The bill has been referred to the House Health Policy Committee for consideration.

Only dentists are allowed to perform certain routine procedures, such as filling cavities, in Michigan. By establishing education, supervision, and licensing standards for dental therapists, the measure would provide dentists with an additional option to care for more patients while also increasing the number of highly trained professionals able to address common oral health conditions.

The bill also aims to address the uneven distribution of dentists in Michigan. Seventy-seven of Michigan’s 83 counties include at least one dental shortage area, leaving millions of residents without regular access to dental care. S.B. 541 would require dental therapists to work in areas that lack an adequate number of dental providers or to see a significant number of patients who are uninsured or on public insurance. This would ensure that dental therapists address dental shortages across the state and provide treatment to underserved populations.

Michigan is following the lead of Minnesota, Vermont, and Maine, which have authorized dental therapists to work statewide, as well as Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, where they are able to work in tribal communities. More than a dozen other states are considering similar bills.

John Grant directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ dental campaign, and Kristen Mizzi Angelone is an associate manager.

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States Expand the Use of Dental Therapy
States Expand the Use of Dental Therapy

States Expand the Use of Dental Therapy

Midlevel providers help increase access to care

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Dental therapists—midlevel providers similar to physician assistants in medicine—deliver preventive and routine restorative care, such as filling cavities, placing temporary crowns, and extracting badly diseased or loose teeth. As states grapple with provider shortages, especially to serve vulnerable populations, a handful have acted to allow dentists to hire these practitioners, and many others are exploring the option. Dental therapists also practice in several tribal communities, where access to care can be especially limited.

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