New Mexico’s Passage of Dental Therapy Law Builds National Momentum for Changing Provision of Dental Care Amid Oral Health Crisis

(BOSTON) – Last night, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) authorized dental therapy by signing House Bill 308 into law. New Mexico now joins nine other states in recognizing that dental therapists have the ability to do what many other initiatives before it have failed to do: expand access to quality dental care in communities that have long gone without. Dental therapists are licensed dental practitioners that work as part of a dentist-led team, similar to the way a physician assistant works on the medical team. They provide common dental procedures including filling cavities. While some work in traditional office settings, their biggest impact has been bringing care to patients in schools, nursing homes, community health centers, rural care clinics, and in tribal communities.

In response to the bill’s passage, Community Catalyst issued the following statement from Tera Bianchi, program director, Dental Access Project.

“We applaud New Mexico and the multitude of people who fought hard to make it possible for New Mexicans to get the care they need. New Mexico is taking a major step toward changing how dental care is provided in the U.S. But most of the country is still battling an epidemic of untreated tooth decay with a dental delivery system that is broken.

“It’s unacceptable that across the country, nearly 58 million people live in areas designated by the federal government as dental shortage areas. In New Mexico, nearly 900,000 live in areas without enough dentists, with the burden falling heaviest on rural, tribal, and low-income communities. 

“Clearly, the dental therapy movement is accelerating to address this crisis. With passage of this law, New Mexico becomes the fourth state – including Arizona, Michigan, and Idaho – in the last 12 months to authorize dental therapists to practice as members of dentist-led teams. That brings the total number of states that have dental therapists working or authorized in some settings to ten. And close to a dozen more states and Tribes are pursuing dental therapy as a proven, evidence-based strategy to improve oral health.

“Dental therapists are already authorized to practice in some capacity in Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. We hope the passage of the New Mexico law, as well as the momentum behind it across the country, will encourage other states to pursue dental therapy as a time-tested solution to addressing the acute lack of oral health access and stark disparities their residents experience.” 

Earlier this year, a blue-ribbon panel released new model legislation that recommends standards for the dental therapy profession that are based on research on quality, safety, and impact on access to care. It also incorporates standards for dental therapy education programs adopted in 2015 by the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). The model legislation is designed to help states pass evidence-based laws that ensure dental therapists in can deliver quality, team-based care without facing unnecessary restrictions and regulations that drive up the cost of education and dental care, or hamper their ability to improve access to dental care.

The New Mexico law will take effect in June.

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About the Dental Access Project at Community Catalyst

The Dental Therapist Project, a joint initiative between Community Catalyst and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, focuses on empowering community groups and consumer health advocates to improve access to dental care by expanding the dental team to include a mid-level dental provider called a dental therapist.

About Community Catalyst

Community Catalyst is a national, non-profit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1998 with the belief that affordable quality health care should be accessible to everyone. We work in partnership with national, state and local organizations, policymakers, and philanthropic foundations to ensure consumer interests are represented wherever important decisions about health and the health system are made: in communities, statehouses and on Capitol Hill. Headquartered in Boston, Community Catalyst has offices in Washington, DC, Atlanta, New York, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. For more information, visit www.communitycatalyst.org. Follow us on Twitter @HealthPolicyHub.

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