The Pew Charitable Trusts commended the Maine legislature and governor for authorizing midlevel dental practitioners. These providers, who function similarly to a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant on a medical team, allow dentists a way to extend care to the many thousands of residents who currently need—but have been going without—dental care.
"The need for dental care in our rural part of Maine is huge. We see it every single day,” said Julian Kuffler, M.D., M.P.H., and medical director of the Community Health Center at Mount Desert Island Hospital in Southwest Harbor, Maine. “This legislation will give us the flexibility we need to offer dental care in a financially sustainable way. We'll be able to hire a dentist knowing that we can also hire a dental hygiene therapist to work as part of their team to extend their care for the most needed routine services. Our Community Dental Center in Southwest Harbor that is up and running looks forward to the day when we can add a dental hygienist therapist to our team."
The law, passed with bipartisan support and signed by Governor Paul LePage (R), authorizes dental hygiene therapists who will be licensed to perform both preventive and routine restorative dental care, such as filling cavities, and who will work under the supervision of dentists.
“Dental hygiene therapists will serve as part of the overall oral health team, working with dentists to improve the access to care for all Mainers,” said House Speaker Mark Eves (D). “The bipartisan effort that brought this bill through the Legislature is a perfect example of legislators working together to ensure that all Mainers have the tools they need to lead healthy lives.”
“I am proud of the work accomplished by the Legislature on this important issue,” said Senator David Burns (R). “By implementing a midlevel provider, we can strengthen our oral health teams with new resources to serve our children’s needs. I believe this legislation gets us on the path of providing more access and professional dental care to underserved areas of Maine. This bill is a wonderful example of legislators working together and putting the people of Maine before politics.”
Currently, areas in 15 of Maine’s 16 counties have dentist shortages, making it hard for 180,000 residents to find care. More than 62 percent of low-income children in the state went without access to dental care in 2011.
“This is a victory for the people of Maine. Dental hygiene therapists will make a real difference in improving access to care,” said Shelly Gehshan, director of Pew’s children’s dental campaign. “This law is a testament to the broad coalition that has worked diligently to address the state’s oral health needs and Pew was proud to be a part of their efforts.”
A recent Pew study that examined how a dental therapist was used in a rural private practice found that in the therapist’s first year new patients increased by 38 percent, the share of Medicaid patients increased from 26 percent to 39 percent, and the dentist was able to focus on more advanced procedures. The study also showed that hiring dental therapists can be a good business decision for dentists, over 90 percent of whom own or work in private settings.
Research has confirmed that midlevel providers offer high-quality, cost-effective care and improve access to treatment in places where dentists are scarce. In the United States, dental therapists are already working in two states, Alaska and Minnesota, and 15 states are considering legislation to authorize midlevel providers.