New bill to address the use of dental therapists in the state

Rep. Eileen Cody introduced a new bill last week aimed at expanding access to oral health care state-wide. HB 1317 would establish and regulate dental therapists in the state – following a growing move nationally.

Dental therapists are mid-level oral health providers, much like nurse practitioners, that work under a licensed dentist provide preventive and routine care, but unlike hygienists can also perform irreversible procedures including some restorations and extractions. Under the bill they will have to be licensed in the state and meet minimum standards for training and competency as defined by the national Commission on Dental Accreditation.

In 2017, a University of Washington Study on the long-term use of dental therapists in Alaska concluded that the availability of dental therapists resulted in meaningful difference in overall oral health in communities, with rates of preventative care going up and fewer extractions. Because their training is less comprehensive and costly than dentists, the hope is that allowing them to practice in the state would address oral health workforce shortages, especially rural and undeserved parts of the state.

 

In March 2017, SB 5079 was passed in Washington allowing the use of dental therapists on tribal lands, but previous efforts to allow them more widely in the state have stalled. HB 1317 has been referred on to House Health Care and Wellness Committee for hearing later in the session.