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New Report Suggests Dental Workforce Expansion May Help Oral Health Crisis

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Sen. Jeff Brandes‘ proposal to bring dental therapy to Florida may broaden access to dental care for Floridians, a new study finds.

Brandes’ proposal, SB 604, seeks to license dental therapists in Florida to perform certain tasks under a dentists’ supervision. According to a Florida Voices for Health report, licensing dental therapists to perform simple procedures could improve access and lower patient costs.

“The report’s findings make clear that we have no time to lose,” said Tami Miller, executive director of the 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 notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated Florida’s ongoing dental health crisis.

The longer the pandemic continues, the report contends, the more severe the crisis may become.

“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,” the report says.

While dental therapists won’t replace a dentist, the report suggests that they are trained to handle various yet common dental issues.

Further, the reports show dental therapists have performed elsewhere in the nation for more than 15 years.

“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,” the report says.

Brandes’ proposal would take effect July 1 if signed into law.

The measure’s three committee stops include Health Policy, Appropriations and Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.

The report suggests the bill could help alleviate the dental care crisis if signed into law.

“Nationally, second only to affordability, difficulty finding a participating dentist is a significant barrier to oral health care,” the report says. “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.”

The 2021 Legislative Session begins March 2.

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