Testimony Before the North Dakota House Human Services Committee Relating to Dental Therapy

Bette Grande Heartland Institute
Published January 21, 2019

Chairman Weisz and members of the Committee, thank you for taking the time today to discuss the issue of dental therapy. The Heartland Institute, founded in 1984, is an independent, national nonprofit organization whose mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. Heartland is headquartered in Illinois and focuses on providing national, state, and local elected officials with reliable and timely research and analyses on important policy issues.

My name is Bette Grande, a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and coauthor of The Case for Licensing Dental Therapists in North Dakota.

House Bill 1426 is before you to allow dental therapists into the labor market. At a time when North Dakota is facing workforce issues in so many areas, the State should be open to expanding opportunities for all types of employment to better serve the new and incoming population.

Authorizing dental therapy in North Dakota would expand oral care access for underserved patients. A growing number of states and tribal communities are allowing dentists to employ dental therapists to help meet the growing need for routine dental care. These midlevel providers function similarly to physician assistants with doctors. Dentists use dental therapists to extend quality care to more patients, deliver treatment to underserved populations, and increase their practices.

Dental therapists are trained to perform up to 94 services and procedures, compared to fewer than 40 services by dental hygienists and about 30 by dental assistants. Dental therapists would practice exclusively under the supervising dentists who employ them and deliver high-quality care. Dental therapists provide preventive and routine care, such as filling cavities, placing temporary crowns on teeth, and extracting severely diseased or loose teeth.

The question really facing North Dakota lawmakers is simple: Does licensing dental therapists in North Dakota pose a risk to public health great enough to justify depriving (1) dentists of their right to employ and supervise dental therapists if they choose and (2) patients of their right to access providers of their choice? The answer is clearly “no.” Licensing dental therapists would only help.

Thank you for your consideration.

Bette Grande
Research Fellow
The Heartland Institute


The following documents provide more information about dental therapy:

This Policy Brief keeps the liberty question front-and-center in the dental therapy debate.

A nonprofit foundation has launched a website designed to provide information about dental therapy for consumers, health care professionals, and policymakers. https://heartland.org/news-opinion/news/online-dental-therapy-resource-launched

The Kellogg Foundation’s 460-page review of the benefits of dental therapy as demonstrated in more than 50 countries.
https://heartland.org /publications-resources/publications/a-review-of-the-global-literature-on-dental-therapists