A bill that would authorize dental therapists in Ohio is under consideration in the state’s Senate Committee on Health, Human Services, and Medicaid.
Senate Bill 98 (S.B. 98), sponsored by state Sens. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) and Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati), received a second hearing by the committee in February. Dental therapists are similar to primary-care nurse practitioners, providing a limited set of services. A dental therapist operates under the supervision of a licensed dentist to perform basic dental treatment and preventive services.
Currently, Ohio law prohibits anyone except licensed dentists from performing dentistry, restricting the supply of oral health care in the state.
The committee has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill.
‘Many Underserved Populations’
Lehner says Ohio is experiencing a worsening dental care crisis.
“We have a shortage of dentists here in Ohio, and that shortage is predicted to continue to increase in the coming years.” Lehner said. “It is easy for people who have always had access to basic dental care to take it for granted. Unfortunately, there are many underserved populations in our state that do not receive this care, despite the fact that oral health and hygiene is critical to overall health.”
Lehner says S.B 98 would allow dental therapists to provide basic care and perform many routine procedures.
“Senate Bill 98 would establish a new category of dental care providers in Ohio: dental therapists,” Lehner said. “Dental therapists are similar to physician’s assistants in the medical field and work under the supervision of dentists. They are licensed to perform basic, preventative, and nonsurgical dental procedures. More specifically, dental therapists would be licensed to do 35 dental procedures. Dentists can perform upwards of 500 procedures.”
Identifies Communities Affected
Tera Bianchi, director of the Dental Access Project at Community Catalyst, a national nonprofit advocacy organization, says senior citizens and low-income households are particularly affected by the dentist shortage.
“Ohio, just like many states across the country, is experiencing a disparity in who actually has access to care and who doesn’t.” Bianchi said. “There are particular communities and particular folks who don’t have regular access to care. That’s seniors, folks in low-income communities, and folks in rural communities.”
Lehner says everybody benefits from expanded access to dental care.
“Dental health is a need of all members of our society, and no population should go without these services because there is no resource available to them.” Lehner said. “Senate Bill 98 would greatly benefit these groups and allow them to receive the adequate dental care they need.”
Removing Government Barriers
Lehner says S.B. 98 would help solve a health care problem without expanding the size and power of the government.
“It simply creates a way to expand access to dental care to the areas that need it most,” Lehner said. “The dental therapist licensure program is totally permissive: dentists would not be required to add dental therapists to their staff. Establishing the dental therapist licensure has the potential to significantly reduce the number of dental-health shortage areas in Ohio while simultaneously improving the overall health of our citizens.”
Bianchi says preventing dental therapists from serving people also keeps individuals from improving their lot in life.
“Right now there is a trend in pushing up and creating overly regulatory restrictions within legislation,” Bianchi said. “Requiring excessive amounts of education is a cost to consumers, a cost to employers, and really limits the number of people that can go into these jobs.”