The following testimony related to the licensure of dental therapists was submitted to members of the Assembly Committee on Health, Aging and Long-Term Care regarding Assembly Bill 668 on Nov. 15, 2023.
November 15, 2023
ASSEMBLY BILL 668
Chairman Moses and members of the Committee,
Thank you for conducting this hearing on AB 668, a bill that would allow the practice of dental therapy in Wisconsin. As you probably know, the Badger Institute has been championing this policy reform for years, providing research, reporting, and educational events to demonstrate the need for, and efficacy of, dental therapy.
We’re delighted to see this critical reform finally advancing in a meaningful way.
If you’ve ever had a toothache — or any type of oral pain — you know how debilitating it can be. It can keep you awake at night, impair your ability to eat, affect your work, and limit your enjoyment of life’s pleasures. Oral pain can consume your thoughts and severely impede your daily activities.
Unfortunately, too many Wisconsinites experience these symptoms and don’t have access to relief. Wisconsin ranks near the very bottom of the 50 states in terms of the availability and the use rates of dental care among disadvantaged populations.
A staggering 58 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties (about 80%) had too few dental providers per capita as of 2019, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ Division of Public Health.
Children are particularly hurt by this shortage. Wisconsin has the lowest rate of dental care use among all states for the more than half a million children who receive dental benefits through Medicaid. Nearly two-thirds of that group — more than 345,000 kids — received no dental care over the course of a year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
You can imagine the adverse effect this has on children’s physical development and learning.
Fortunately, there is a proven, free-market solution. More and more states are adopting dental therapy as a means of providing quality, affordable oral care in shortage areas and elsewhere.
Dental therapists are mid-level providers who perform preventive and restorative procedures — things like cavity repairs, extractions, and fluoride applications. They’re licensed professionals similar to nurse practitioners or physician assistants. They work under the general supervision of dentists and usually practice in shortage areas.
And we know that dental therapy works. In 2009, Minnesota opened the door to these professionals, and the results exceeded expectations. In 2016 alone, Minnesota dental therapists provided care for nearly 100,000 patients, a figure that has almost certainly increased as the number of practicing dental therapists has grown. As of September 2022, there were 131 practicing dental therapists in Minnesota, according to the state’s Board of Dentistry.
Minnesota clinics that employed dental therapists saw more patients, provided more services, and increased gross revenues, according to a 2020 study published by the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Albany School of Public Health in New York.
And dentists are delighted with the results. The dentistry schools in Minnesota told us that many of the dental therapy students secure jobs even before they graduate.
As we’ve argued for years, it is imperative for disadvantaged children, veterans, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable populations that dental therapists be allowed to train and practice in Wisconsin. We hope you will quickly advance this measure on behalf of every Wisconsinite who’s needlessly suffering oral pain.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
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