On Wednesday, Governor Doug Ducey signed HB 2235, which will allow accessible and affordable dental care in Arizona. Thorpe’s bill creates a new dental provider known as a dental therapist.
“While being a supporter of dental therapy for several years, I was honored to work with Senator Barto and all the stakeholders, and to provide one of my bills in order to bring the amended bill language over from the Senate for final passage in the House,” said Thorpe. “Just like the successes seen in Minnesota and Alaska, trained and certified mid-level dental practitioners, working under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist, will provide needed services and preventive care for our underserved citizens, especially in rural Arizona which includes my legislative district.”
HB 2235 passed with bipartisan support.
The bill was supported by both Pew Charitable Trusts and the Goldwater Institute. In 2017, the Goldwater Institute released a report exposing “the restrictive government policies that create artificial barriers to accessible and affordable dental care in Arizona.”
The study’s authors proposed dental therapy as “an innovative, affordable approach to addressing the state’s looming oral health crisis.”
Goldwater argued that a mid-level dental license, called dental therapy, “should be created to allow dental therapists to carry out routine dental procedures.”
Dental therapists have been so successful in delivering care in Minnesota that their malpractice insurance premiums amount to approximately $100 a year.
Dental care has been out of reach for many rural Arizona residents. Among the hardest hit is children on remote parts of reservations.
According to Pew Trusts:
Dental therapists are similar to physician assistants or nurse practitioners on medical teams. They receive rigorous training in routine restorative procedures, such as filling cavities and performing extractions. When dental therapists provide regular routine dental care, dentists are able to focus on more complicated procedures.
Dental therapists often work away from the traditional dental office in locations such as rural clinics, nursing homes, and schools while keeping in touch with their supervising dentists through telehealth technology. By working in communities outside normal business hours, dental therapists can extend access to people who face barriers getting to a traditional dental office.
According to the Goldwater report, The Reform That Can Increase Dental Access and Affordability in Arizona:
- In 2014 alone, 27,000 Arizonans resorted to hospital emergency departments for preventable dental conditions. Medicaid, which is funded by taxpayers, paid for 56 percent of these visits.
- More than half of the state’s children in kindergarten have a history of tooth decay and more than one-quarter have untreated tooth decay.
- 75 percent of American Indian third graders in Arizona have a history of tooth decay.
- Only one-third of Arizona dentists participate in the state’s AHCCCS program.
- Arizona is currently only meeting 31 percent of its oral healthcare needs, lagging behind the national average as well as neighboring states. This is based on a federal measure where there is one or fewer dentists per 5,000 people in a geographic area.