Legislation has answer to Florida’s dentist shortage: dental therapists

Patients are going to the ER for dental work, racking up bills in the process.

A dentist shortage has advocacy groups pushing for loosened regulations on who can practice dentistry, and policymakers are attempting to fill that need with legislation that would allow dental therapists to practice in Florida.

Numbers from Wellbeing Florida show hospitals billed more than $620 million in preventable ER visits and hospital admissions stemming from oral health issues last year. About half of that was billed through Medicaid, Medicare and other government services.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, 43 of Florida’s 67 counties are experiencing a dentist shortage.

A bill from Sen. Jeff Brandes (SB 604) offers a solution to the dentist shortage by allowing dental therapists to practice in Florida.

Dental therapists can practice under the supervision of a dentist, performing simple procedures, such as providing preventive care, filling a cavity and educating patients on proper techniques to maintain good oral health. The group Floridians for Dental Access, an advocacy group for dental therapy, compares the relationship between a dental therapist and a dentist to that of a physician’s assistant and a doctor.

Currently 12 states allow dental therapists to practice.

While Brandes’ legislation is not moving in the Senate so far, House companion legislation (HB 961) is fairing a bit better. That bill is on its first reading in the Professions and Public Health Subcommittee.

Dental hygienists support such legislation.

“It’s heart-wrenching to think of the dental pain so many Floridians have experienced that brought them to ER, especially when many of these situations could have been avoided,” said Tami Miller, Executive Director of Florida Dental Hygienists’ Association and a member of Floridians for Dental Access. “This is a crisis that can be solved. By bringing dental therapists to Florida, we can increase access to care and cut overall costs. It’s good for the patients, for the health care system and for the taxpayers.”

Haley Brown

Haley Brown covers state government for FloridaPolitics.com. Previously, Haley covered the West Virginia Legislature and anchored weekend newscasts for WVVA in Bluefield, W.Va. Haley is a Florida native and a graduate of the University of Florida. You can reach her at [email protected].


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