**Press Release** House Companion Bill Filed to Expand Access to Dental Care
Tallahassee, FL – HB 961 was filed in the House this week by State Representative Melony Bell (HD-56) to establish licensure for dental therapists in Florida.
“Residents in my district and across the state are suffering greatly from the limited access to dental care,” said Rep. Bell. “But there’s something we can do about it. Establishing the dental therapy licensure, a model safely and effectively applied in other states across the nation, will increase access and cut overall costs for dental care. It’s a win-win.”
Similar to the relationship between a doctor and a physician’s assistant, dental therapists work under the supervision of a dentist. Dental therapists complete extensive training and must pass the same state clinical licensing exam as dentists for the procedures they are licensed to perform, such as providing preventive care, filling a cavity and educating patients on proper techniques to maintain good oral health.
“Thank you to Rep. Melony Bell for championing this measure!” said Tami Miller, executive director of Florida Dental Hygienists' Association and a member of Floridians for Dental Access. “Dental therapists have been safely providing care across the nation for the past 15 years. With this legislation, we can bring dental therapy to Florida, increase access to dental care and lower overall costs.”
Florida’s severe shortage of dentists is a pressing public health concern. More than 5 million Floridians live in areas that have limited access to dental care. Florida’s children and seniors are among those who suffer the most from the shortage of dentists. Over 23% of Florida’s third-grade children have untreated tooth decay, and 14% of Florida’s seniors have had all their teeth extracted.
Poor dental health directly impacts the health of an individual’s entire body and is linked to severe illnesses including heart disease, strokes, lung infections, bacteria and osteoporosis.
HB 961 enables dental therapists to provide dental care in the communities that need it most. The legislation authorizes them to provide care for patients in community settings, such as schools, early head start programs, senior centers and rural community clinics, as well as private practice locations that meet certain requirements.
In 2019, Florida hospitals billed more than $624 million for ER visits and hospital admissions stemming from preventable oral health issues. Florida taxpayers are directly impacted by this issue with Medicaid paying for nearly 40% of those preventable visits.
HB 961 is the House companion bill to SB 604, which was previously introduced by Sen. Jeff Brandes in the Senate. SB 604 was referenced to Senate Health Policy Committee, Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services and Appropriations Committee.
To read HB 961, visit https://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Bills/billsdetail.aspx?BillId=72026. 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.