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Dental therapists would help address Florida's oral health crisis

This legislative session, the Florida Legislature is considering a measure that would establish licensure for dental therapists to provide care in Florida. This is an important step toward addressing the oral health crisis in our state as it would expand access to care in underserved communities.

However, there’s a campaign spreading misinformation and falsehoods about dental therapists that must be corrected.

I’m a pediatric dentist, and I follow the principles of evidence-based dentistry. I choose to look for and understand scientific facts, evidence and research publications to guide my decisions and practices. Therefore, let’s look at the facts about dental therapists.

There is a severe shortage and maldistribution of dentists across the Sunshine State. According to both the federal government and the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute, one in four Florida residents live in areas where there’s a shortage of dental health professionals.

High costs are a barrier for low-income and even middle-income patients to access dental care, according to the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute. Access to dental care is also a problem for the elderly and those living in rural areas.

While raising Medicaid reimbursement rates in Florida could help more patients afford dental care, research shows that raising Medicaid reimbursement rates does not consistently improve dentist participation in the program or patient utilization.

Dental therapists can help.

Licensing dental therapists in Florida would expand the dental care workforce allowing for more patients to be treated. Proposed legislation would allow dental therapists to bring care to the very communities that need it the most.

The bill would authorize dental therapists to provide care in mobile units, community centers, schools, Head Start programs, senior centers and other locations convenient for the patients. For the areas where there are no dentists, or not enough of them to meet the need, this proposal would bring dental therapists to them.

Dental therapists are highly trained and formally educated in educational institutions accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, the same organization that accredits dental schools. They must pass the same Florida state examination as dentists, just within their limited scope of practice.

Once licensed, dental therapists can perform simple procedures, such as filling a cavity, pulling a baby tooth or educating a patient on proper oral hygiene. Dental therapists must provide care under the general supervision of a dentist.

Dental therapists are safely and effectively caring for patients across the nation and around the world. They have worked in 50 other countries for more than 100 years. Here, in the United States, dental therapists are licensed in 12 states, some for more than 16 years.

I have personally witnessed the quality of their training and performance in Alaska and Minnesota. You don’t have to take my word for it. All, and I mean 100%, of the published scientific evidence demonstrates their quality, safety and cost effectiveness.

Visit our website Floridians for Dental Access ( and read the truth about the needs in Florida for dental care and the way dental therapists can help Floridians access high quality cost effective dental care.

Why do more than 65 bipartisan local, state and national organizations belong to our coalition? As a thoughtful, long-term dental researcher, facts beat opinions in every case.

Write or call your local legislators and ask them to support SB 604 and HB 961 to authorize dental therapy in our state.

Dr. Frank Catalanotto is a pediatric dentist and long-term dental educator and researcher in Florida. He graduated from New Jersey Dental School and Harvard School of Dental Medicine/Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The opinions he expresses are his own and do not reflect the opinions of any organization he is associated with.

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