WHA Joins Coalition Supporting Dental Therapy Legislation

March 19, 2019

WHA and a broad coalition of organizations have come out in support of state licensure for a new category of dental providers known as dental therapists. Governor Evers’ budget bill introduced on February 28, as well as Senate Bill 89 introduced by Sen. Craig on March 7, and Assembly Bill 81 introduced by Rep. Felzkowski on March 18, authorize the licensure of dental therapists in Wisconsin. A bipartisan group of 33 legislators have signed on to these bills. 

A dental therapist is a mid-level, licensed oral health professional who works in conjunction with a dental care team under the general supervision of a dentist. Dental therapists provide evaluative, preventive, and restorative dental care, such as fillings and simple extractions. Dental therapists are currently authorized in eight states, including Minnesota and Michigan. Several other states, in addition to Wisconsin, are currently considering legislation to license dental therapists. 

WHA’s support for this proposal stems from poor statewide access to basic dental care, especially for Medicaid recipients and the uninsured. This lack of access impacts hospitals and health systems who see patients in emergency departments and urgent care centers with severe dental pain resulting from untreated dental conditions. In 2017 alone, more than 37,000 emergency department visits for preventable dental conditions were reported to the WHA Information Center.  

Expanding the type of dental professionals who can perform basic restorative services, such as preparing and filling decayed teeth, should improve access to basic dental care, particularly in areas underserved by dentists, including rural communities, some urban areas, and nursing homes.  

For further information on this legislation, contact Laura Rose, WHA Vice President of Policy Development.
 

This story originally appeared in the March 19, 2019 edition of WHA Newsletter