Tennessee General Assembly advances two bills addressing dental care


Maddie McCarthy


Tennessee lawmakers have advanced two bills related to dental care; Senate Bill 2075 and SB 677.

SB 2075 is sponsored by Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin). The bill was enrolled on Wednesday and has been signed by both the House and Senate speakers.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Sen. Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), spoke about its components at a Senate Health and Welfare Committee hearing on Feb. 14.

“This legislation will expand access to dental care by increasing the amount of dental hygienists that can be supervised by an individual dentist from three to five,” Massey said.

The bill would not apply to private practice dentists and dental hygienists, only to those who work for the Tennessee Department of Health (DOH), a metropolitan or county health department, or an entity that is part of the state’s safety net program.

“The current ratio under-utilizes the workforce of dental hygienists employed by the state, and allowing more hygienists to work under the supervision of one dentist will allow for a higher access of care in underserved communities. Our dental hygienists play a crucial role in educating patients about proper oral hygiene practices and lifestyle choices that impact oral health.”

— Massey

Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) asked Massey if there was a reason the bill restricted the expansion to the DOH and safety net dental spaces.

“The DOH definitely wanted it for their locations,” Massey said. “The dental association, I think, wanted to move it a step at a time, and they wanted to make sure we covered the safety net providers. And those are probably some of our most crucial locations.”

SB 677, sponsored by Sen. Shane Reeves (R-Bedford County), focuses on the insurance side of dentistry. The bill passed in the Senate and was received by the House on Thursday.

Reeves said the Tennessee Dental Association brought this bill to him and insurance carriers have worked through the bill as well.

“This bill will ensure that dentists are paid correctly when they perform a procedure for their patient, and cleans up areas of the code where dental insurance carriers and dentists alike have conflicting implementation of law,” Reeves said. 

SB 677 eliminates certain practices like downcoding and bundling, unless the bundling follows generally accepted dental practices. 

It also allows for the Department of Commerce and Insurance to issue a cease and desist letter, suspend the license of, or fine insurance carriers for violations like dictating to the dentists what they can and cannot charge for non-covered services. 

Reeves said that, overall, the bill allows for the enforceability of code.

Most importantly for dental care patients, the bill also prohibits insurance carriers from not allowing dentists to accept multiple types of payment options. 

The Tennessee General Assembly passed major dental care legislation last year with SB 361 and House Bill 942. The bills entered the state into the Dentist and Dental Hygienist Compact. There are currently not enough states in the compact for the compact  to go into effect yet, but many states have pending legislation to enact it, or have passed legislation to do so. Once enough states have joined, dentists and dental hygienists licensed in compact states can practice in other compact states.

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