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New Report Calls for Expansion of Dental Workforce to Address Oral Health Crisis

Licensing Dental Therapy Would Bring Care to Underserved Communities, According to Florida Voices for Health

Tallahassee, FL – According to a new report released recently by Florida Voices for Health, licensing dental therapists can increase access to dental care for Floridians and address the growing oral health crisis in the Sunshine State. The report details various barriers to care and outlines proven solutions, including licensing dental therapy.

“Nationally, second only to affordability, difficulty finding a participating dentist is a significant barrier to oral health care,” says the report. “Because dental therapists would complete their training in three years at low-cost state (community) colleges, building the workforce with these providers has the potential to deliver rapid solutions.”

Sen. Jeff Brandes proposed SB 604 this legislative session, a measure that would bring dental therapy to Florida.

“The report’s findings make clear that we have no time to lose,” said Tami Miller, executive director of Florida Dental Hygienists' Association and a member of Floridians for Dental Access. “Now is the time to pass SB 604 and bring dental therapy to Florida. With dental therapists providing the care that families need, we can increase access, improve oral health and cut overall costs for dental care.”

The report points to COVID-19 as a complicating factor for Floridians’ access to oral health care, accelerating the decline in the state’s oral health.

“The pandemic had a variety of effects on the dental safety net care functioning through interruption service delivery during the ‘shutdown,’ increased costs to providers through enhanced infection prevention requirements, diminished the professional volunteer workforce availability, exacerbated clients’ fears of dental visits, and contributed to a larger pool of uninsured and unemployed clients in need of their services,” says the report. The report advocates for licensing dental therapists in Florida to perform simple, but necessary procedures.

“Dental therapists have a scope of practice that includes non-complex evaluative, preventive, restorative, and minor surgical, dental care under the indirect supervision of a dentist,” it says.

Not only will dental therapists increase the workforce, but these trained, licensed providers will bring care tocommunity settings, such as schools, early head start programs, senior centers and rural community clinics.

Dental therapy has been performed safely and successfully across the nation for more than 15 years.

The report was a compilation of information and perspectives from stakeholders across Florida. The Florida Oral Health Progress and Equity Network (OPEN Florida) held five virtual regional roundtable discussions throughout 2020. Participants represented dental professionals, administrators, and advocates from academia, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), and free and charitable clinics (F&CCs).

Florida Voices for Health also released a video in concert with the report, demonstrating the growing health crisis and need for dental therapists. In 2017, 39 to 40 percent of Medicaid eligible children received dental services. Meaning, more than 1.7 million children who had Medicaid did not receive dental care. Children with poor oral health are more likely to miss school and more than twice as likely to perform poorly in school. Two major contributors to this problem are the severe shortage of dentists in Florida and the more than 5 million Floridians living in areas with limited to no access to dental care.

To read SB 604, visit https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2021/604. There is no immediate fiscal impact tied to the legislation.

Floridians for Dental Access is a coalition of dentists, dental hygienists, community advocates and families who seek to expand access to affordable dental care for children, seniors and others through the use of dental therapists.

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© 2021 Floridians for Dental Access