Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey recently signed a law that allows dental therapists to practice in specified settings throughout the state. The law will take effect August 3 and will allow dental therapists, a midlevel provider, to be a licensed profession.
Along with six other states, Arizona will now allow dental therapists to practice in settings like tribal settings, federally qualified health centers, and nonprofit community centers. Like many states, Arizona has growing dental health needs. And with dental therapists, certain procedures, like fillings and extractions, will be able to be done at decreased costs.
With the number of people who need dental implants growing by 500,000 every year, more states are taking action to provide easier access to dental care. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Nancy Barto, who believes dental therapists will help meet the state’s oral health needs.
“Dental therapists are a proven workforce model that will increase affordable care options without creating new, burdensome regulations,” explained Barto.
Some of the biggest supporters of the bill were members of the Tohono O’odham Nation southwest of Tucson. The tribe members see the legislation as a career option for members to stay on the reservation and not have to spend the money to go to dental school.
Under the new law, someone must be a licensed dental hygienist, graduate from a three-year Council on Dental Accreditation dental therapy program, and pass a clinical competency examination to become a dental therapist.
While the legislation was passed by the Senate unanimously in April, there are still doubts about the new position helping with the state’s oral health needs.
“We still have doubts about it. We really believe it’s not the answer it’s being touted as,” said Kevin Earle, executive director of the Arizona Dental Association.
So once there are dental therapists working in the state, the Department of Health Services will conduct a study to determine whether or not the new position is making a difference.
Other states have already implemented similar programs and many more are considering laws to allow for dental therapists. There is high hope that this new law will not only create high-quality jobs, but increase the ease of access to affordable dental care to those who currently don’t have access.