North Dakotans for Dental Access
North Dakotans for Dental Access News

Legislators and ND Dental Access Coalition show support for HB 1426

At a press conference on January 21, legislators and supporters addressed HB 1426, legislation that would help increase dental access across the state by allowing dentists in safety-net provider settings to expand the oral health team through hiring dental therapists. Thousands of North Dakotans do not receive regular, routine dental care because there is not enough access to providers to serve the elderly, children, Medicare/Medicaid patients, Native Americans, or those living in poverty.
“I am a dentist in Bismarck, working for a non-profit community care center, and I support dental therapy in North Dakota,” said Dr. Joanne Luger, Bridging the Dental Gap. “It’s about time the dental community realize that any previous attempts at improving access to those who need it the most simply aren’t working – we need to be doing more – and we can do more by allowing willing dentists to hire dental therapists.”
House Bill 1426 adds the option of hiring a dental therapist to certain healthcare settings within North Dakota. Those settings include Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), non-profit dental practices, practices that serve under the authorization of Indian Health Services, or similar organizations. This bill targets the efforts of dental therapists into those areas that serve populations that most need quality, routine dental care. Dental therapists are similar to physician assistants, in that they are midlevel providers who are trained, side-by-side with dentists, to offer routine and commonly needed preventive and restorative services, such as filling cavities.

“Too many North Dakotans suffer from dental diseases that are preventable with routine care. The people we hear from cite the high cost of care or not being able to find a dentist that will accept their insurance,” said Emily Mallory, president of the North Dakota Dental Hygienists’ Association. Mallory is also a spokesperson for North Dakotans for Dental Access, a coalition of 24 organizations dedicated to increasing dental access in North Dakota. “We need to make changes that will bring more, affordable options to those residents of our state who need this care most. For these reasons and more, we support House Bill 1426.”
In North Dakota:
  • More than 1 in 4 third graders have untreated tooth decay;
  • 68 percent of children enrolled in Medicaid did not see a dentist in 2017 (the worst in the country);
  • Half of Native American third graders have had untreated tooth decay, and;
  • One-third of all seniors have dental problems, more than any other group.
HB 1426 would allow a licensed dental therapist to work under a dentist’s supervision, performing a pre-determined, limited scope of tasks that would include routine, preventive restorative care. The use of dental therapists on the oral health care team is not a new or unproven method; eight states in some capacity, including Arizona, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont and tribal communities in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington and more than 50 countries allow dentists to hire a dental therapist. This extends care into rural, low-income, and uninsured patients, including in schools and nursing homes.
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