Julie Grace 2021 Dental Therapy Testimony

On March 17, 2021, Badger Institute Policy Analyst Julie Grace testified in favor of 2021 SB 181 before the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Insurance, Licensing, and Forestry.

Read a transcript of Julie's testimony below.

Read more about 2021 SB 181 here.

Senator Felzkowski and Members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today in support of Senate Bill 181, which would provide for the licensure of dental therapists in Wisconsin. The Badger Institute has researched and written on this issue extensively over the last few years. I’d like to share a few highlights that illustrate why we support this policy.

Wisconsin has a dental access problem, particularly for vulnerable populations like those with low-income, the disabled, rural populations and children on Medicaid. Twenty percent of the state’s residents – more than 1.2 million people – live in a dental health professional shortage area. Only 40% of children on Medicaid received preventative dental services in 2019, and only one-third of Wisconsin dentists accept Medicaid patients at all. Fifty-seven percent of kids on Medicaid in Wisconsin – more than 300,000 children and adolescents – did not receive any dental care in 2019.

Dental therapists, now authorized to practice in 12 states, are a free-market solution that would help solve this problem and increase access to dental care for Wisconsinites in need. We’ve seen their success in other states, including neighboring Minnesota, and we believe they’d succeed here, too.

Minnesota, which in 2009 became the first state to authorize dental therapy statewide, now has 10 years of data analyzing how dental therapists have been able to provde care for unserved communities. A recent study analyzing data from 250,000 patient visits to Minnesota dental clinics that utilize dental therapists concluded that those practices increased both patient caseloads and gross revenues. There are now 113 dental therapists practicing in the state.

Minnesota dentists now favor dental therapy, but that wasn’t always the case. The director of the dental therapy program at the University of Minnesota, told us that when the legislation first passed, eighty percent of Minnesota dentists opposed the change. Today, 60 to 70 percent of dentists in Minnesota support dental therapy. Dentists, including the executive director of the Minnesota Board of Dentistry, say that the only complaint they hear about dental therapists in Minnesota is that “there are not enough of them.”

This bill represents a common-sense, free-market and bipartisan solution to a serious and persistent problem in our state. It would increase access to and use of dental services, improve oral health outcomes for disadvantaged populations and create jobs without imposing the burden on taxpayers.

In fact, according to research conducted for us by Dr. Morris Kleiner, AFL-CIO Chair in Labor Policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and Ph.D. student Jason Hicks, creating the dental therapy profession in Wisconsin could reduce the shortage of dental care providers and the size of the underserved population in the state by up to 42 percent.

The Badger Institute supports the changes to this bill from last session and urges passage of SB 181.