The Debate Over the Legalization of Dental Therapists Continues

An increasing number of states are legalizing dental therapists. Currently they have varying degrees of legal status in Minnesota, Vermont and Alaska, a growing number of other states are in the legal process of considering it, while more are still in the discussion phase.  

So, what exactly are dental therapists? 

Dental therapists have mid-level qualifications that place them above dental hygienists and below full-fledged dentists. They also take the same licensing test as dentists, they just take a shorter version.

Dental therapists are trained to do everyday low-risk operations such as fillings, temporary crowns and extractions. 

Currently, only 40% of dentists in the U.S. currently accept Medicaid coverage.

Proponents argue that legalizing dental therapists increases the number of dental professionals qualified to do these common procedures, thereby expanding accessibility for people with lower incomes or on federal assistance programs. 

On the other hand, opponents of the program are weary of potential lower levels in quality of care. 

While Minnesota has completely legalized dental therapists, a number of states that have legalized or are considering legalizing them conditionally. For instance, in Vermont, dental therapists can only legally work under the supervision of dentists. Massachusetts legislation is proposing that dental therapists would only be allowed to work on Medicaid recipients or in counties with a lack of sufficient dentists. 

Dental therapy legislation was first introduced in Washington in 2011 and has been brought forth every year since.