Arizona lawmakers introduce bill aimed to increase access to oral healthcare

State Sen. Nancy Barto, along with a bipartisan coalition of legislators, introduced legislation to create an allied dental professional to increase access to affordable oral healthcare.

The legislation creates a licensing structure, educational requirements and the scope of practice for dental therapists in Arizona. A broad coalition of oral health stakeholders, business community interests and community activists have worked together through Dental Care for Arizona to bring this proposal to Arizona lawmakers, according to a press release.

The bill, filed as SB1377, would allow for the training, licensure and use of dental therapists in both public and private dental care settings, a release states.

“Data by the Health Resources and Services Administration, show that Arizona has the highest percentage of people living in a federally designated Dental Health Professional Shortages Area than any other state in the nation” Rep. Diego Espinoza said in a prepared statement.

“We know that lack of access to dental care disproportionately impacts tribal, rural and low-income communities. Dental therapy is a viable option that this legislature must consider as we work together to address this chronic healthcare challenge.”

Sen. Barto said the legislation will put Arizona with other states who value dental therapists of the oral healthcare team.

“Dental therapists have been working safely and effectively around the world since the 1920s, and in the United States since 2004. In fact, more than 1,100 reports, surveys and studies confirm the safety and effectiveness of dental therapists as an innovative, cost-effective delivery model for dental care,” she said in a prepared statement.

Tribes in Arizona, who have advocated for a law to allow dental therapists to work within their respective communities since 2007, said they are eager to see the bill pass because the change would provide them a proven workforce model to help address their chronic need and access issues.

“Dental therapists have made a big impact in improving access in Tribal, rural, and under-served areas in Alaska, Washington State, Oregon and Minnesota,” Kim Russell, executive director of the Arizona Advisory Council on Indian Health Care, said in a prepared statement.

“We are confident that dental therapists will not only help alleviate chronic shortages in our Tribal communities, but improve the oral health outcomes of our children, veterans, and elderly in every corner of Arizona.”

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